HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The women who chair the Legislature's money committees said the Department of Education needs to have a "serious discussion" about pushing back the start of public school until after Labor Day to save students from sweltering during August in classrooms without air conditioning. But the head of the public school teachers' union is skeptical of the idea.
Parents and other family members of students at Red Hill Elementary said they like the idea of moving the start of school from late July until after Labor Day to help the beat in the heat, since more than 90-percent of public school classrooms lack air conditioning.
"I don't know if there's another reasoning why they start at the end of July but I'm used to starting the Wednesday after Labor Day and it seems like very hot days to be in school with no AC," said Robyn Goldberg, whose son attends Red Hill Elementary.
Evelyn Talon, a grandparent of a Red Hill Elementary student, said, "Some of the schools are very hot so that would be good. But depends on the location, you know? "
The chairs of the Senate ways and means and House finance committee told Hawaii News Now education officials need to have discussions with parents, teachers and others to consider moving the start of school back to September.
"We have an extra five or six weeks that kids are in school in the hottest of the year that traditionally in the past, they were not sitting in those classrooms," said State Sen. Jill Tokuda, who heads the Senate's ways and means committee, which is in charge of state spending and taxation.
State Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House finance committee, said, "While we were going to school, we weren't sitting in classrooms in the middle of August which is pretty hot."
"Why are we forcing our kids into classrooms during the hottest time of the year?" Luke asked.
Corey Rosenlee, the head of the teachers union, isn't so hot on the idea.
"You know I really appreciate the sentiment of the two legislators. But the problem is that if we push back the calendar, the kids will be learning in June, and June is still hot," Rosenlee said.
Rosenlee said a later start to the school year would mean kids would not finish the fall semester until after the winter break.
"The nice thing about ending at winter break is that lessons are done, tests are done. Over a three-week break, kids can forget stuff and so you want to sort of complete their lessons when everything is done," Rosenlee said.
Tammi Chun, the DOE's assistant superintendent for strategy, innovation and performance, said, "One of the challenges is that the hottest months are really August and September and our most humid days are in October so the calendar is a really challenging way ... it's not the best tool we have to really deal with the heat."
Chun said the DOE solicits opinions about the school calendar every year but this year it has gone through a more extensive process and so far has received 4,000 responses with opinions about five different calendar options.
Based on all those comments, she said DOE officials will make a recommendation to the Board of Education, which is expected to approve next year's school calendar sometime in October.
Chun said the DOE has looked at many different options and is taking into account a lot of different considerations about the calendar, everything from
"Issues about payroll to issues about student learning, and with student learning being the most important factor that we're trying to consider here as to which calendar and how do we use our instructional days to really maximize the amount of learning for students?"
"If we started the school year at Labor Day, we would probably need to finish at the very end of June or beginning of July," Chun said.
Hawaii public schools offer 180 instructional days a year.
"Because of the mandatory instructional days and we've looked at a lot of school calendars from around the country and it turns out we take a lot of holidays in Hawaii," Chun said. "So a lot of other school districts, it turns out, don't offer state holidays or they don't even take all the federal holidays."
"We actually have a number of what we would consider non-instructional days in our calendar year that are holidays or that afford teachers the opportunity for planning that make our calendar a little bit longer than most other school districts," Chun added.
DOE officials said it would cost $1.7 billion to install air conditioning in thousands of classrooms across the state. Rosenlee those improvements can be done much cheaper.