For the first time in about a decade, all schools in the Amphitheater Public Schools district began classes on the same day this year, and will end on the same day, too.

But changes in legislation mean that the details of the calendar for next year and beyond are still being figured out.

At the district's school board meeting Sept. 9, much discussion centered on the calendar - adding additional class time to the calendar to meet legislative requirements, and parental concern about classes beginning as early as this year's starting date of Aug. 6.

"We'll present a draft calendar at the next meeting and hopefully finalize a calendar during the first meeting in October," said Amphi legal counsel Todd Jaeger.

In the early 1990s several district elementary schools began year-round school calendars, followed by other schools. For various reasons, including costs and summer scheduling conflicts arising when children in the same family attended different schools, officials decided year-round school wasn't working.

In the 2001-2002 year, the year-round schools moved from three weeks off in the spring and three in the fall to two in both, in an effort to move closer to a unified school calendar. Likewise, the schools on the traditional calendar adopted a one-week fall break.

This year, every school is on the same schedule with a one-week break in the fall and spring.

Arizona law has prescribed that public schools must meet at least 175 days each school year. Proposition 301 mandated that beginning with the 2001-02 school year, an additional day must be added each year until schools are meeting 180 days. This year, classes are held for 178 days.

As the school year has grown, the start of school has moved closer to the month of July.

This does not sit well with some parents.

"I did receive approximately four letters or e-mail requests that the board consider starting school later because of the heat," superintendent Vicki Balentine told board members at the Sept. 9 meeting.

Roy Martin, the father of a seventh grader at Wilson K-8 School and a junior at Ironwood Ridge High School, said the school's early starting date was complicating his family's summer plans.

"We start our school year so early and we end it so early that we're out of sync with the rest of the country," he said.

Martin's son attends an outdoor adventure camp in Texas during the summer, and one of its session ends after Amphi students are back in school. Martin asked the camp director whether the session dates could be changed, and was told that the camp has to accommodate the school schedules of campers across the country.

"Arizona is so small that the opportunities are not going to tailor themselves to people in this state," Martin said.

Martin is a divorce attorney, and said he has seen the early school start date cause problems for parents who are trying to coordinate the summer schedules of children living in other school districts.

Marana Unified School District started classes Aug. 13 this year and will end on May 20. Amphi schools' classes will end May 19.

Also discussed during the meeting was whether the school district should add an extra day to next year's calendar or opt to make the school day slightly longer.

A law passed this year allows school districts to lengthen school days rather than adding an additional day a year to meet the state's new requirements for time spent in classes.

Marana Unified School District Superintendent Richard Lesko said he didn't think the Marana calendar committee was considering lengthening school days.

"I don't think we're looking at that option at this point," he said. "I think an extra day will be added."

The prospect of opting out of the extra school day stirred discussion at the Amphi school board meeting, though.

Amphitheater Education Association President John Lewandowski said the association would poll school district employees to see whether they preferred an extra day or added minutes.

About five minutes would need to be added to each school day for each day deducted from the annual calendar.

Board Vice-President Kent Barrabee advocated doing what teachers want.

"I think it behooves us, given our financial constraints, to listen particularly closely to how the teachers feel about this, because in some ways, they're going to have an added burden for which it is not clear that we at the district can, or are in a position to, provide added compensation," he said.

Board member Mike Prout suggested lengthening half days by an hour or so rather than adding a few minutes to the end of each school day. He said that option could have educational benefits.

"Kids come to school and it's hard to keep them focused because they're only going to be there for essentially a half a day," he said.

Board member Patty Clymer mentioned that not all schools have the same number of shortened days for professional development of staff.

"It's not a uniform matter of everyone getting out the same time across the board, so there are a lot of complicating factors," Board President Nancy Young Wright said.

Prout also questioned whether off time could be taken out of the school district's rodeo break, a time when schools traditionally release students from classes for two days in February during the Tucson Rodeo.

Balentine discouraged messing with that Tucson tradition.

As for discussions about moving the school start date forward a week, Young Wright said she'd "rather stick my hand in an electric socket" than go back through those larger discussions about the school calendar.

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