Saline Board of Education Votes 5-2 for Early School Start in 2019-20

 01/24/2018 - 01:38

The question wasn’t so much if, but when.

The Saline Board of Education voted 5-2 to approve Superintendent Scot Graden’s recommendation to start school before Labor Day in the 2019-20 school year.

Board President Tim Austin and Trustees Michael McVey, Dennis Valenti, Scott Hummell, and Karen Delhey voted to approve Delhey’s motion to approve Graden’s recommendation. Vice President Paul Hynek and Secretary Heidi Pfannes voted against the motion.

The community has been divided fairly evenly - although the debate hasn’t been fierce. Graden’s recommendation was portrayed as a compromise. It moves the district toward a schedule educators believe will lead to better educational outcomes, yet it respects the schedules of families who’ve already begun making plans for Labor Day this year.



Board of Ed talks about the start of school

Posted by The Saline Post on Tuesday, January 23, 2018


While the issue split the community, it didn’t split the board -- despite the appearances of the 5-2 vote.

Hynek and Pfannes didn’t vote against Graden’s motion because they are opposed to starting school before Labor Day. Hynek and Pfannes didn’t want to wait until 2019-20. We reached out to Hynek and Pfannes and here’s what they told us, via email.

Paul Hynek:

My support for starting in 2018 and not waiting for 2019 is based on many things:

  • Staff are in favor of early start at a higher percentage than the parent/student groups (they know the kids and how to educate them!).

  • Even though they won't admit it - most kids are ready to go back by the last week of August and their parents are ready for them to go.

  • With this timing - the new students and building transition students will have two "short" weeks to start the year and get acclimated to their new buildings (emotional wellness).

  • Students are "fresher" in the fall - burnt out by Memorial Day (Staff as well).

  • This is about "Change" - and people naturally resist change.

  • Many who don't want it - still won't want it in 2019  (Maybe they will get used to the idea in the next 19 months....but somehow I think not).

  • Parent/Students are basically split - so no matter when we do it - 50% are okay   50% are not.

  • If we waited for instance, on Next Gen classrooms to be 100% accepted - we'd still be traditional teaching (this was a bigger change - and the results have been great).

  • The improvements to the athletic/academic calendars....especially the timings of finals and the AP tests are great positives.

  • My guesstimate is that about 50 students district wide might not start with us (girl scouts, 4H, vacations, etc....).  I'm okay with that.  Over the years, I regularly pulled my kids to travel before different breaks - family time is important as well.  This happens now (religious holidays also)  just not normally at the beginning of the year.   Working with their teachers, like we do today for "off-schedule" time off, school assignments can and will continue to be provided.  This is a choice by the students and their parents - choices have consequences - they need to weigh their options.

  • Just like the parents being 50/50 - the economic data from around the state by different groups to have or not have the “Labor Day” law is also 50/50 on this issue - twisted in my mind to make their points.

  • Bottom line - I think this is best for our students - and that to me is always the first question I ask myself.

  • I believe the rest of the county will soon follow.

  • The current calendar system was built around planting/harvest seasons - even though I consider us to be somewhat of a farming community - it is 2018 folks!

  • We asked the state for a waiver, now we are saying...we’re going to wait.  Will the state change their mind as well on the 3 years?

Heidi Pfannes:

I believe it is a great idea to start school before Labor Day.  My no vote was because I would like to start pre Labor Day beginning 2018 vs 2019. My reasons are because by the third week in August the sports have already started, band has started, high school kids are back and engaged,  most of the students are back and ready for school. There will be conflicts - for the Girl Scouts- their service on Mackinac Island can be an excused absence.  

Educationally, the kids are ready to be back late in August.  They are excited to be back in the classroom.  The exams will be completed before Thanksgiving so the kids can take the weekend to focus on their families in lieu of studying for exams.  By June all the tests are completed

And there are no assessments In June to measure the growth of our students.  By June the kids are distracted and want to be outside.  When school is done in June families are ready for vacations.  When the state added five days to the calendar this year it means the kids have to go longer in June.  This has an impact on concentration on learning, the impact on Tourism in Michigan, and the ability to attend summer camps and summer educational enrichment.  

So, because I feel strongly it is better to start before Labor Day, why wait.  I am in total support of the board’s decision of waiting until 2019.  Even after this engaged process, there will still be people who will not be happy when 2019 start date comes and we are sorry we can’t please everyone but I think this will be a good compromise since the community feedback has been so divided.


Tran Longmoore's picture
Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at or call him at 734-272-6294.

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Ron Mexico's picture

"My reasons are because by the third week in August the sports have already started..."

Third sentence.  I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see Heidi lead out with sports for justifying a change to the school year calendar.  It was the first reason she listed, followed by band.  I know Americans are obsessed with sports but academics should come first.

Ron Mexico's picture

I'm not even sure how to respond to Paul's comments.  I just keep reading them laughing.  He makes his own "guesstimates" but then accuses others of providing "twisted" data.  Wow.  And then there's this gem:

"Even though they won't admit it - most kids are ready to go back by the last week of August and their parents are ready for them to go."

How about that for scientific data to justify a huge change in an academic calendar year?  I'm not sure if Paul has kids but maybe he's ready for them to back to school in August.

And just for good measure, let's completely dismiss the farming industry and insult local farmers, because, you know "it is 2018 folks!"

Bob Jenkins's picture

I couldn't be more disappointed with this decision. We were given a forum and a survey to voice our opinions on this topic. Were any of these opinions taken into consideration? I took the survey, as did many people I know, with the express intent to discourage the early start to the school year. No matter when you start the year or when school lets out the staff and students will be burned out the last few weeks of the school year. Also, kids will always be ready to return to school after 12 weeks off in the Summer. Starting earlier doesn't change that. Starting school early for sports is catering to the fall athletes. If school starts a week early and gets out a week early then the baseball/softball players will be playing an additional week after school lets out when they are in the playoffs. However, my biggest gripe is that we have a limited number of those beautiful, warm, sunny Summer days in Michigan. Early June is often cool and rainy. The lakes haven't even had a chance to warm up yet. Late August and early September is, in my opinion, the nicest weather of the year in the Great Lake State. Why would we want to force our kids to stay inside during that time? If it were up to me (it's not) I would start school the second week of September (going a week opposite of what was decided) and let school out the third week in June. Maximize what we can't control; the good weather. I know the decision has been made but I felt my voice should be heard and I know I am not alone. Thank you.

Ron Mexico's picture

Bob, I agree. But all you have to do is read the comments from the school board members above and you will understand why we are in the situation we are in.  I have a hard time buying the notion that shifting the start/end dates but going to school for the same number of days has any positive effect on burnout.  The additional 5 days mandated by the state likely have a direct impact on student burnout.

I believe the survey was also just a CYA checkbox for making this type of major decision.  Someone please correct me if I missed it, but the survey results were never released.  The only reference to the survey I saw was this mention in the MLive article:

"Graden said, and there were only about 15 more people in favor of the earlier start date than against it."

Maybe it's just me but not publishing the survey results and using words like "only about 15 more people" out of about 2,100 responses doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence.

Saline has some of the best schools not just in the state, but the country.  I understand there is always room for improvement but no need for major changes.  Our district is not in a position where we need to be on the bleeding edge of public education reform.  If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

The community is clearly divided on this sensitive issue.  The school board made a decision they knew would not be well-received by a large portion of the community.  The fact that Paul and Heidi did not even want to give families time to plan for this major change is just inexplicable.

Voting unanimously to approve a change that "about" 50% of the community opposed feels very out of touch.  But then publicly justifying that decision by citing sports seasons and dismissing farmers is at best irresponsible, and at worst, completely incompetent.

Tran Longmoore's picture


I understand the community can be split on an issue. Ask people if they like green or blue, and you'll get a split.

But help me understand why people are passionate about this? It was only 10 years ago that all schools started in August, right? Then came the post-labor day start to boost tourism.

Does it really matter that much, either way?

I guess I want to hear from people why this matters to them.


Ron Mexico's picture

Hi Tran,

Thanks for asking.  I have lived in Michigan my entire life.  I attended public school and never started in August.  Maybe I missed a time or place where August starts were a norm.  I just haven't ever lived in a district that started school before Labor Day.

I think the passionate opposition comes from multiple places.  As others have already stated, end of summer Labor Day vacations have become an important tradition for many Michigan families.  Not to mention a major change like this has financial and logistical implications on things like childcare.  There are others that also see early start as precursor to year-round school.  That's a whole other can of worms I'd rather not open right now.

But I understand change happens.  You have to adapt.  My opposition to early start is actually more rooted in the motivation behind the decision.  I appreciate you publishing these responses from the school board but both the tone and content took me aback.  I know supporters cite a variety of factors but the one overriding "benefit" I consistently hear is better alignment with the fall sports schedule.  Even if this was only a partial factor, what happens when sports start even sooner?  It's a slippery slope.

I would love to see the survey results, but I suspect many of the over 1,000 community members who opposed early start share the same concern that sports are possibly driving decisions that impact academics and family time.  And when a school board member lists "sports" as the first reason for supporting a strongly opposed change, and wants to immediately implement with no courtesy window, those concerns are suddenly legitimized and very justified.

Tran Longmoore's picture

Interesting point about the lakes.

To me,  I also asked the question about getting antsy. If you start early, won't you get antsy earlier?

But the point was made about the weather. Kids get distracted by the warm weather of the late spring, I was told. I countered with, won't kids be distracted by the warm weather of late August?

And that's where they won me over a little bit. They believe that kids coming back in August won't be as distracted by the weather because they're coming back fresh and focused. 

They'd rather have kids in school for the warm weather at the start of school than the end of school.

You know what makes kids focus? Challenges. Consequence. Where I grew up, as a senior, our final exams were in June. And our college outcomes depended on those results. We were literally sweating it out until the last day.