Fall school openings to be delayed

Renovations of six East Windsor school district buildings may cause a delayed opening for the 2004-2005 school year or the cancellation of spring break.

By: David Pescatore
   HIGHTSTOWN — Canceling spring break and pushing the first day of school deep into September were two of the options considered by the Board of Education on Monday, as it discussed ways to ensure that necessary construction projects would be completed prior to the first bell of the fall.
   "You have to consider what would be in the best interest of the students," Interim Superintendent James Sheerin said to the board.
   Renovations at the district’s six schools could threaten opening day of the 2004-2005 school year if delays forced the projects to take longer than expected.
   Most at risk, according to Dan DelMar of Epic Management, is Hightstown High School, where parking lots, the bus loop and a cafeteria expansion are scheduled to be constructed this summer.
   "The outside work has the greatest chance of being delayed," Mr. DelMar said, citing unpredictable weather conditions.
   The Melvin H. Kreps and Grace N. Rogers schools also are scheduled for summer cafeteria expansions.
   Mr. DelMar said the contractors’ contracts at HHS grant them until Sept. 10 to complete their work, effectively eliminating any opening date prior to the 10th.
   That restriction, coupled with state laws that mandate school begin in September and end in June, and require 180 days of classes, left Dr. Sheerin with four possible calendars.
   The first has Sept. 13 as the first day of school and an ending date of June 24. This model includes a spring break from March 25 through April 3.
   A second option also has children in the classroom on Sept. 13, but eliminates spring break, ending school on June 20.
   While the Sept. 13 calendars mitigated some risk, Dr. Sheerin said that risk would be reduced even more with a Sept. 20 start.
   The Sept. 20 opening would give contractors 12 weeks following this year’s June 14 last day of class.
   The two Sept. 20 models had classes ending either June 29, including the same spring break, or June 23, with no spring break.
   Although he does not make the final decision on the school calendar, Dr. Sheerin seemed to prefer the Sept. 20 option with no spring break.
   "He said that he thought that given the two options, the staff would prefer losing spring break compared to working later into June.
   That option also would give contractors an extra week to complete work during the summer of 2005.
   One possible drawback would be finding a location for Hightstown High School’s graduation ceremony, which is normally held at the Sovereign Bank Arena, in Trenton.
   He said he did not know if the arena would be available that late in June.
   Dr. Sheerin said that if the Sovereign Bank Arena were not available, other locations, including college campuses, would be identified as possible locations. He said he would expect little competition for graduation arenas that late in June.
   "One positive of ending later than other schools is that we are not in competition for graduation arenas," he said.
   "Whatever you choose," he told the board, "have contingency plans. Work to prevent problems, then, have a plan in place if a problem is there."
   The school board is requesting public input on the calendar, either on an existing model or another idea. It plans to continue the discussion at its Feb. 23 meeting.
   Those wishing to comment can attend the meeting or write an email to Dr. Gerald Lysik, the assistant interim superintendent, at glysik@ewrsd.k12.nj.us.
   No date has been set to vote on a calendar, but that traditionally has taken place in March.