PITTSBURG -- The summer break could get shorter if Pittsburg Unified School District goes through with a proposal to move to a balanced school year calendar, a schedule already used by most other East Contra Costa school districts.
Moving to a balanced calendar, also known as a traditional modified calender, would help eliminate the learning gap that can occur with a long summer, say proponents. But it would mean big adjustments in the lives of teachers, students and parents accustomed to the old calendar. The idea is only in the discussion phase, and nothing has been decided.
With a balanced calendar, the school year would start in late July instead of late August, and the summer break would be seven weeks instead of 10, with two-week breaks in the fall, winter and spring. High school students would also be able to take their finals before the winter break. (The weeklong Thanksgiving break would remain.)
The number of school days -- 180 -- would not change. If the switch is made, it would start with the 2015-2016 school year for all schools in the district.
"The question posed is 'are there benefits to changing the school year calendar to serve the educational needs of Pittsburg Unified School District students?'" said Superintendent Linda Rondeau.
There is the potential for students to forget what they have learned with a longer summer, she said. Budget cuts have also done away with summer school for K-8 students, and fewer community-sponsored activity programs are available for children during the summer, she said.
Nutrition is another factor to consider, given that almost 85 percent of students in the district qualify for the reduced-cost school lunch program.
"Our families and children in many instances rely on school breakfasts and lunches," she said. "And alternative feeding sites during the summer are not that comprehensive."
A district committee consisting of parents, teachers, administrators, nonteaching support personnel, business and city representatives is studying the proposal.
"It just seems (a balanced calendar) is the right thing for the children," said Chris Stephens, a business representative on the committee, who recalls having long summers when he went to school. "I remembered nothing when I came back."
Any change to the existing calendar must be endorsed by the teachers union. The current three-year contract expires June 30, and the issue of a balanced school year will be addressed in upcoming negotiations.
Teachers in the Pittsburg Education Association are split on the idea, according to a survey in which about two-thirds of the association's 550 members participated.
Some teachers like the idea of a balanced calendar because the breaks would be spread more evenly and make child-care arrangements easier -- in cases where teachers' own children go to schools on the same schedule, said association president Dawn Cova.
But other teachers prefer a traditional calendar so they can take a summer job or attend classes related to traditional development. "Many teachers hold a second job during the summer," Cova said.
A traditional calendar is also preferred by teachers whose children go to schools on that schedule.
"There are definite pros and cons, and a lot of it comes down to personal preferences and what people need," she said.
Teachers also want more information as to whether a balanced calendar benefits students, the survey found.
Balanced calendars are already in place in the Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood and elementary school districts in Oakley, Brentwood, Byron and Knightsen.
"If we tried to change it off of this, there would be a rebellion," said Rick Rogers, superintendent of the Oakley Union Elementary School District, where a balanced calendar has been used for more than 20 years. "Our parents, our staff, everybody really, really likes it."
"The families say seven weeks is just long enough for the summer ... I would say the teachers love it," said Eric Volta, superintendent of the Liberty Union High School District.
And while there are valid concerns raised by some Pittsburg teachers that a shorter summer would make it harder to keep up with professional development classes, Volta said that hasn't been an issue with his district's teachers.
"If professional development is in August and it's important, the schools will get substitutes," he said.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.