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SF School Start Date Vote Tuesday

Sioux Falls voters get to decide Tuesday whether public schools must start after Labor Day. A vote NO forces the district to schedule the first day of class after the holiday. A vote YES supports the approved calendars, which start in mid- to late-August.

Parent Wendy McDonnel says she would rather have time in August than the second half of May, when she says it’s still chilly outside.

“The end of May is not nearly as nice for individuals to be able to work or spend time with family or be outside – whatever it might be – as it is at the end of August. Point being, when I took my son to school last year on the last day of school, it was 26 degrees,” McDonnel says.

McDonnel says a shift in the school start offers better weather for family adventures.

Barb Newitt has children in the Sioux Falls School District, too. She says weather is too unpredictable to determine a school start date based on family time.

“Frankly, if we sit around waiting for nice weather to have quality time, it’s going to be a really long winter in South Dakota, and so my kids and I enjoy those last couple of weeks in May as much as we do in August, and, yes, you might be doing different things but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have quality time together,” Newitt says.

Both sides in the calendar debate say voters have more factors than just the weather to consider.

Vote Yes for Education advocates say they don’t get to decide when state and national tests happen, and two or three more weeks in the classroom ahead of exams makes a difference. Newitt is a teacher at Sioux Falls Roosevelt. She says students need time to prepare for standardized tests in elementary and middle school and for AP exams.

“The Advanced Placement classes are classes that students can take for college credit. And sort of the misconception out there is that maybe these are just the more elite students that are taking them, but what we’re finding is that more and more students are able to succeed with them,” Newitt says. “Right now, in Sioux Falls, we have over 40 percent of our juniors and seniors taking those classes.”

People who want to start school after Labor Day say testing is important, but Voice In Local Control supporters say AP deadlines impact less than six percent of students in the Sioux Falls public schools.

Workforce development is part of the debate, too. Wendy McDonnel is a parent in Sioux Falls. She says shifting the school year to continue later in May and start in September allows students more time to participate in jobs in construction or with parks and recreation.

“You can look at the employment that’s seasonal, but you can also look at the employment that, they may just need a job to be able to be successful in their own life, no matter what. Maybe they’re saving for college. Maybe that’s their only option to be able to afford college. Well, that’s important,” McDonnel says.

Vote YES for Education supporters say the difference isn’t significant and that Advanced Placement tests are a financial factor. They say students can save more than 800 dollars in college credit for passing an AP test.

This year’s school calendar for Sioux Falls public students starts class on August 17th. Next year it’s August 22nd, and the year after is August 21st. Newitt says approving the calendars still allows flexibility for those to change.

“With a yes vote, there’s still a possibility for some compromise, so those that are out there that are kind of thinking, ‘You know, August 17th sounds a little bit earlier, but September 8th is really too late,’ there still could be some room in the middle,” Newitt says. “And that’s one thing that we’re kind of hoping for, if it doesn’t happen next fall hopefully soon after that that we can find something in the middle to make everybody happy.”

Yet McDonnel says the time for compromise has come and gone.

"It all comes back to being able to have a voice. We have had students and we have had AP teachers and we have had teachers reach out to us and say, 'everything's going to be fine, and we're voting no and this is why we're voting no.' Unfortunately, they do not feel comfortable coming forward. And that is half the reason if not a big part of the reason that this vote came to be,” McDonnel says.

McDonnel says community members have wanted input for years, and now voters decide on Tuesday’s ballot.

A YES vote supports the current three years of school calendars, which start classes in mid- to late-August.

A NO vote requires the first day of school to begin after Labor Day.