Public school districts across the state received a memo from commissioner Johnny Key with the Arkansas Department of Education on Tuesday.

The memo, titled, “Avoiding Issues with School Calendar,” reminded districts that as it started developing the school calendars for the 2019-2020 academic year, to consider specific information set in motion from previous legislation.

The first bit detailed how based on law, each school year the first day of school for student attendance in public elementary and secondary school across the state should be:

• On or after the Monday of the week in which Aug. 19 falls.

• Not earlier than Aug. 14.

• Not later than Aug. 26.

Last year, the Conway Board of Education, along with several others across Arkansas, submitted waivers requesting permission to start earlier; the state board granted multiple Act 1240 waivers permitting an Aug. 13 start date, Conway included.

In accordance with the law, 178 days of student-teacher interaction time is required when adopting a school calendar.

Conway approved its during the board meeting Tuesday night.

The Log Cabin Democrat spoke to director of personnel Karen Lasker on Wedneday.

She said the memo sent out was something they anticipated and planned for — others across the state who she had talked to were scrambling last minute to make it work.

Each year, Conway let’s their employees vote on two options for a school calendar.

Lasker said that process starts with a district committee and its calendar group, which meets separately to discuss the ends and outs, each going to the building they represent, getting input from teachers, seeing what they want and don’t want when it comes to the school calendar.

“They talk about it, they bring it in, we get it together according to what everybody says and [what] the law says and try and figure that out,” she said.

They work through the varying requests, what works and what doesn’t, compile a couple options and send them out for teachers to vote on.

This year, they came up with two options and 707 out of the more than 1,000 employees in the Conway School District submitted their votes.

Of the two, option one — with 458 votes at 64.8 percent — was selected and approved by board members during their regular meeting this week.

For the 2019-2020 school year, teachers will come back Aug. 6 for the kick-off teachers fair, breakfast and district-wide assembly and will continue to have professional development days until the 12th; school starts for Conway Aug. 13.

As far as starting earlier, Lasker said it all has to do with a May holiday.

“What it does, if you don’t start early, it pushes you after Memorial Day,” she said.

If they started later, Lasker said the school year would continue into June, a problem for families scheduling those holiday vacations and what not

What asked if the district has had issues in the past with students not coming the last couple days of the school year, Lasker said they have. She said parents and students get the mindset that those last three days don’t matter.

“Lot of them just decided after a certain time, the later you get in May and June, the education is not there … the instruction, the strong instruction, isn’t as strong as we’d like it to be,” she said. “We tell our teachers, our parents, our students, no … that we teach up unto the last day of school, which is why we put in that teacher workday as a last day so that teachers can handle the business they need at the end of the year without students.”

This year they get out May 24. With the selected calendar, next year it’ll be May 22.

When creating the calendar, Lasker said they also have to work in flex days, or professional development days, and if teachers use their time during the summer to get those hours, they get the days off — most do that, unless something comes up — but if not, they have to come to work.

“The majority … almost 100 percent, it’s very high in the 90s that everyone makes sure they can take care of that,” she said.

Lasker said option one put everyone coming back Jan. 7 whereas option two put them back Jan. 3.

“Teachers like that extra weekend,” she said. “It makes it seem like your holiday is longer and we understand that. That’s why that option probably didn’t [pass].”

Lasker said there are calendar aspects that teachers clearly prefer: coming back later after the Christmas holiday, not wanting to go past Memorial Day, they like to have a day off every month, but they can’t always work in what everyone wants.

It starts every year with that calendar committee.

“I always tell them every year, like now, I try to make little notes — this is my second year doing this — I try to make a note and see how, what the feel is, and I ask [them] all the time, ‘tell me what the feel is, what are your people saying , go back and talk to your staff, talk to them and find out what they like and don’t like,’” Lasker said. “They’ll give me some suggestions and I’ll make a note and I’ll tell them at the beginning of the year, when we start meeting in August and September, ‘guys, the calendar is coming up … remember when we had this, [and that].”

She said that’s how they get the ball rolling.

One piece of feedback she’s received that way is in regards to Good Friday.

“This year in April, they’re getting off for Good Friday,” Lasker said. “This coming April they are, the next year, they’re not. The reason why we put that [in] is the year before they didn’t, and all the other schools were off Good Friday, they didn’t like that. They don’t like it when the surrounding people are off and they’re having to come to work.”

She said she wishes there was a perfect calendar out there with everything everyone wants included, but that doesn’t exist.

“It’s a give and take,” Lasker said. “You can’t get everything you want and you can’t please every employee, we try to do the majority and that’s why we vote to see which one wins. It’s all about the majority. Everyone has a vote.”