The Tomah School Board will issue another survey before deciding whether to pursue an effort to start school before Sept. 1.

The board voted to 7-0 to send a second survey after hearing that the original survey was confusing and “rigged.”

Board members conducted a public hearing Monday on a possible challenge to a state law that prohibits public schools from starting classes prior to Sept. 1. The board is considering seeking a waiver under the Department of Public Instruction’s “Districts of Innovation” program. School district superintendent Cindy Zahrte believes the year-round calendar at Lemonweir Elementary School qualifies as an innovation that permits the district to bypass the law.

Speakers at the hearing were split on the law, but questions arose over how the original survey was crafted. Zahrte said 75 percent of parents surveyed favored starting the 2018-19 school year Aug. 22 instead of Sept. 1. The first question asked if “you would favor a school start date in August,” but the second question on a specific date didn’t include a September option.

“I’ve heard parents express confusion over this,” board member Nancy McCoy said.

The revised survey will have just one question with the following options:

  • I prefer the school calendar with a September 4 start date and June 6 ending date.
  • I prefer the school calendar with an August 22 start date and May 30 ending date.
  • I do not have a school calendar preference.

Board president Brian Hennessey favored keeping the survey at one question.

“Personally, I say keep it as simple as possible,” he said.

Five people signed up to speak with two clearly opposed and one clearly in favor.

Tyson Koput, owner of the Ground Round, said late August is a busy time of year and that he depends on teen-age help to get the restaurant through the end-of-summer rush.

“The last two weeks in August are great for business,” Koput said. “It’s going to be a staffing issue for the restaurant.”

He said the Wisconsin Restaurant Association opposes any relaxation of the Sept. 1 mandate.

Brock Bailey said his farming operation also depends on student labor.

“As a farmer, I employ high school students on my farm, and I don’t think the early start is something we need,” Bailey said.

The early start enjoys the support of the Local Indian Education Committee. Stephanie Begay said the committee’s support is based on academic grounds. She said her children are “always ready to go back to school in August ... by Memorial Day, they’re ready to be done.”

Zahrte said she has also gotten feedback from parents who say their children get restless in class after Memorial Day.

She also said the calendar would align more days at Lemonweir with the rest of the school calendar and save on transportation costs.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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