Bentley wants calendar flexibility

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday returned House Bill 360 to the Legislature with an executive amendment that increases flexibility for local school systems, but local superintendents are adopting a “wait and see” strategy.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson said his concern lies on where the divisor falls in terms of the number of students funded per classroom.

“I would applaud the effort,” he said. “But I am waiting to hear more. I think we all agree to the fact that we need to keep as many jobs as possible.

“Certainly I want the freedom and authority to choose the start and end date for our system, but we were in a bind because of the divisors.”

HB 360 calls for raising the divisors by .25 percent, which results in more teaching units for schools across the state, than a Senate version that would have palced the divisor at .4 percent.

County Schools Superintendent Terry Holley said he was watching state news for the governor’s decision Tuesday.

Holley said he and other education officials will be in Montgomery today to discuss the measure, along with other issues facing school systems.

“By Thursday, we should be able to talk about it,” Holley said of the calendar measure.

Under the bill, school years must contain 180 classroom days, seven professional development days, begin no earlier than Aug. 20 and end before Memorial Day.

Bentley’s executive amendment gives school systems the choice of opting out of new school calendar guidelines established by the bill.

At the same time, the amendment would allow schools to enjoy the flexibility measures detailed in the bill.

“I believe local school systems know what’s best for the students they serve, and I believe local school boards should be able to establish their own school calendars,” Bentley said. “If a local system determines that the new calendar guidelines are not in the best interest of local students, my amendment would give that system the ability to provide notice to the state superintendent of education and opt out of those guidelines.”

Bentley said he supports flexibility measures that are included in HB 360. Those measures include the ability for local school systems to adjust the days or extend the hours set aside for teaching and instructional time. Such flexibility could greatly help systems amend their school calendars in situations such as making up weather days.

“The flexibility component of this bill can be very valuable for local school systems as they meet the needs of the students they serve,” Bentley said. “Let me be clear – the intent of the bill regarding the school calendar is good, but I also want to make sure systems have the local control they need. With approval of my amendment, we can emerge with a bill that gives systems greater flexibility than they’ve had before.”

Members of the legislature will now consider the amended version of the legislation.