Waivers on Hold: Schools Plan for Five Extra Days
The Moore County school system will operate on a 185-day schedule next year as educators hold out hope the N.C. General Assembly will re-evaluate the state’s school calendar law.
Moore County was one of 69 out of 115 school systems in the state that asked the State Board of Education for full or partial waivers of the additional five student days for the 2012-2013 year.
Last week, the state board postponed a decision on whether to grant the waivers to give the General Assembly an opportunity to address the effectiveness of the state’s school calendar law in its short session.
Superintendent Susan Purser, who was in Raleigh for a superintendents’ meeting at the time of the decision, said she was disappointed that the board chose to create uncertainty for school systems on the chance that the General Assembly will make further changes to the law.
“I do appreciate the fact that they’re going to continue to work with the General Assembly, but they could have gone ahead and granted the waiver [for next year] and also continued their work with the General Assembly for future years,” she said.
Purser added that the delay only strings the school system along as it works to let the community know about next year’s schedule in advance.
“People are making plans throughout the year,” she said. “Part of what we find is that for our calendar, there are a lot of other entities that look at what our calendar is so they know what to set up for their employees. It’s pretty important for us to get our calendar defined and get it released to folks.”
Purser said the school system is now in a position where it has to put out a calendar knowing that further revisions are likely — a situation the system found itself in last year.
“For us to be communicating and then saying we’re going to do something different — that makes it difficult for our families, employees and other organizations that use our calendar as a baseline,” she said. “It also makes it look like we don’t know what we’re doing. It is others that are creating the confusion.”
Last year, the Moore County Board of Education was waiting to see whether or not the General Assembly would choose to address how early and late schools can be in session before approving a final version of the 2011-2012 calendar.
Under the state’s current law, which was passed in 2004, schools are required to start classes no earlier than Aug. 25 and dismiss no later than June 10.
Purser said the Board of Education held off finalizing the 2011-2012 calendar for as long as it could, with hopes that the General Assembly would act.
“We kept waiting because they had indicated that they were going to have some consideration in modifying the calendar law,” she said. “Finally, we said we couldn’t wait anymore. We needed to let our families know.”
After finalizing the calendar, the school system was surprised to learn that the General Assembly rewrote the law to require 185 student days within the current framework as a measure passed in the 2011-2012 state budget.
Previously, the law required 180 student days in a school year.
The board then went back and amended the calendar to reflect the change again by taking away five teacher workdays and adding five early release student days.
Because the additional days sent school systems scrambling to revise their calendars, the state board allowed districts to waive the five days for the 2011-2012 year as long as the days were utilized to provide professional development in preparation for the state's new curriculum, which goes into effect next year.
At that time, the Board of Education chose not to pursue the waiver because it had already amended the calendar, and the year-round school year was about to start.
However, the board reversed its stance and applied for the waiver in October, after families and teachers complained that the additional days were an added burden that gave teachers little downtime to prepare for lessons.
Purser said the whole process could have been handled better this past summer.
“It was extremely disruptive,” she said. “Again, the General Assembly and the state board, at this stage, has thrown us into that same situation again.”
During its last regular meeting Nov. 21, the Board of Education tentatively approved two versions of the 2012-2013 calendar, one including 180 student days and one including 185, to have a final version ready by the first of the year, pending the state board’s decision.
Purser said the school system will go ahead and send out its 185-day version with a note saying that the calendar may change in coming months. She added that in the meantime, the board will try to influence the General Assembly to take action.
“I think it will be easier for families to work with if we have to take the five days out if it becomes available,” she said.
Lack of Flexibility
Besides having to operate for five more days with no additional state funding, the school system is expected to fit 215 operational days into the traditional year, including 185 student days, 11 holidays, nine teacher workdays and 10 annual leave days for school breaks.
Between Aug. 25 and June 10 for the 2012-2013 year, there are 206 weekdays available.
The system helped address this issue by placing teacher workdays outside the start and end date framework, scheduling five before school starts and two after school ends on the traditional calendar. There are only two teacher workdays scheduled during the 2012-2013 traditional school year — one on Jan. 22 and another on Feb. 18.
Purser said the constraints in next year’s calendar will create the same situation that teachers are facing this year — little time to prepare for lessons and to get caught up on workdays.
“Those opportunities to have breaks within the year are really critically important in supporting the instructional program for our students,” she said. “And I don’t think that is generally understood.”
The state board’s decision not to act was based on the fact that the board supports the additional days, but its members say that the days are difficult to implement on top of the restrictions that are already in place as school systems draft calendars.
Purser agrees that a lack of flexibility is the main issue.
“The real problem is they’re putting the 185 days in the restrictions of everything else that is in the calendar law,” she said. “[The state board’s] intent is about trying to get some relief somewhere. It’s really some relief in working with the calendar — additional funding to support the additional days, some flexibility that would allow school districts to work out a calendar that works better and keep the 185 — there are all those options.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis said recently at a town hall meeting in Matthews that lawmakers will likely remove the additional days from next year’s calendar as the General Assembly considers revisions to the state budget.
Purser said she was hesitant to trust that the General Assembly will take up the issue, given how the similar situation played out last year, but she hopes that some relief from the calendar law’s requirements will come eventually.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
More like this story