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District agrees to start school Aug. 20, 2013

SOLON– Graduation day will fall on May 18, 2014, and school will start on Aug. 20, 2013, as the Solon school board passed next year’s calendar at its January meeting.
Board members also asked a calendar committee for different start date options for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. The committee will also look at building in some snow days during the school year to avoid a late start to summer vacations.
For high school principal Nathan Wear, “It’s not so much the early start. It’s ending the semester by (winter) break.”
In 2013-2014, the second semester will end one week after winter break. The broken semester has been a major main concern for teachers who say students have difficulty restarting after break to prepare for finals and end-of-semester projects.
At the public hearing on Jan. 13, two parents spoke about their concerns for students participating in summer activities and jobs, especially the Iowa State Fair. The school board is required to hold a hearing to start the school year before Sept. 1. Last year, almost 98 percent of Iowa schools started before Sept. 1 but no school started before Aug. 14.
The state fair is scheduled for Aug. 8 through 18, 2013; Aug. 7 through 17 in 2014; and Aug. 13 through 23 for 2015.
The issue will likely be picked up by the governor’s office and the state legislature in 2013. Last year, the Iowa House voted to make the fourth Monday in August the start date. The bill was not considered in the Iowa Senate.
Last fall, an 18-member task force appointed by the Gov. Branstad issued a split opinion on start dates for schools. The majority view recommended that Iowa school districts retain control of start dates. They argued that ending the first half of the school year after winter break affects student achievement and asked that districts keep local control over start dates.
The minority view voiced concern for businesses that count on revenues from recreation and tourism. They say early start dates cost Iowa businesses and deplete a cheap work force made up of high school students. The task force minority opinion also noted that was no research to indicate that student achievement is affected by Sept. 1 start date. They called for an end to waivers for school districts.
The 18-member task force consisted of current and retired teachers and administrators and members of the business community and was also charged with studying the length of the school day and school year. They recommended that state schools meet an annual hourly requirement (a minimum of 1,080 hours) instead of the current 180-day calendar.
In 2012, only eight Iowa districts started school in September.

Facilities plan begins
The board approved a proposal from Des Moines/Waterloo-based architecture firm StruXtures for a $7,000 facilities plan that will identify current district resources and explore future needs for Solon schools. StruXtures has recently completed similar studies for Decorah, Waterloo and Ames school districts.
Superintendent Sam Miller said he’d identified some community members for a school facilities planning committee to work with the architecture firm. Miller said that local input would help inform StruXtures and keep them apprised of Solon’s history and current needs.

SRNA lighting agreement
Superintendent Miller said the school district and city of Solon are exploring an agreement to install lights at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area (SRNA) parking lot and adjoining fields.
The district’s attorney will draw up a 28E agreement between the schools and city outlining the matching funds for the estimated $16,000 lighting project. The city will cover half the initial cost and all future costs for the SRNA lights but, as of publication time, has not finalized its new budget.
The next Solon school board meeting is Feb. 11 at 6 p.m.