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Year-Round School Plan Draws Fire in El Monte

June 08, 1986|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

EL MONTE — A group of parents, angry because the El Monte City School District board acted to institute year-round schedules next year without first consulting them, confronted the board at a public hearing last week, voicing concern over child-care arrangements and disruption of family vacations.

The hearing at Cortada School drew nearly 100 mostly Spanish-speaking parents, who seemed to share the board's concern about severe overcrowding in the district but did not like the board's decision or the way that it was made.

"You voted, but we are the taxpayers, and nobody asked any of us," said Michelle Chavez, a parent who said she works for another school district so she can care for her children in the summer.

'Don't Like This One Bit'

"I have one child at Cortada and one at El Monte High School, and I don't like this one bit," she said.

"Are we being forced, or do we have a choice?" asked Humberto Mora. "I have six children, with one in high school, so my children will have separate vacation times. Our family is used to planning long vacations together."

The board had notified parents in letters sent over the past two years that the year-round schedule was under consideration, but did not consult them before it decided last month to place two schools, Loma and Cortada, on year-round schedules beginning in July, 1987.

A third school, Potrero, would begin a year-round schedule in July, 1988. The board also voted to study the feasibility of phasing in other schools. The three designated schools are located in the southwest section of the district in El Monte and South El Monte and are severely overcrowded.

Increasing Enrollment

According to district officials, enrollment has increased by more than 14% over the last five years. The district's 10,500 students attend school in facilities designed to serve 9,300 students, and enrollment is expected to rise to 12,350 by the 1988-89 school year.

School officials attribute the increases to both higher birth rates and increased immigration.

There are now 1,100 students attending classes in 34 trailers and portable classrooms. If it does not go to a year-round schedule, the district will need an additional 45 trailers within the next three years.

District officials said that if the district had the funds to construct permanent classrooms--which it does not--it would have to build about 80 new classrooms, or the equivalent of four new schools, to accommodate projected enrollment by 1989.

Staggered Vacations

Under the year-round plan, students will be divided into groups who take staggered short vacations, including time off at Christmas and Easter, during the year, rather than one long summer vacation.

Under one schedule being considered, called a 45-15 plan, students would attend school for nine weeks, then take three weeks off in a cycle occurring four times a year.

Operating year-round under such a system, a school built for 600 students can handle 800.

The El Monte district has conducted two public hearings on the new schedule to explain the concept to parents and to identify problems so that school officials can use the year before the schedule is implemented to solve them. The district has not yet settled on details of its program, said Supt. Duane Dishno.

Third Hearing Scheduled

A third hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Potrero School.

At last week's meeting, which was conducted with the help of a Spanish-language translators, some parents suggested other alternatives, including double sessions.

However, Dishno said that the plan involved such long days, beginning at 7 a.m. for one group of students and ending at 6:25 p.m. for the second, that the idea had been discarded.

Another parent asked if a second story could be built on the school, a possibility the district is investigating.

Teachers Favor Plan

If the Cortada parents are unhappy, the teachers are not, said Susan Matchett, president of the El Monte Elementary Teachers Assn., which represents 465 teachers in 18 schools.

Some teachers like the flexibility in vacation scheduling and the opportunity to take breaks more often. Others favor the idea for academic reasons, believing that students retain more of what they learn without long interruptions.

"Teachers will have the option to transfer in or out of year-round schools," she said, "but most are waiting to see how the program develops. Change is always a threat until you see how it will affect you, but it will depend on the individual teacher's circumstances."

Julie Spainhower, a sixth-grade teacher at Cortada, said at the hearing that she liked the year-round plan.

No Bumping on Seniority

But she expressed concern that because she is new to the district, she would not have the opportunity to continue at Cortada because teachers with more seniority would opt for the year-round plan.

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