Calendar bill sets school start at Aug. 20

Published 12:03 am Saturday, May 12, 2012

It’s back to the drawing board for local school systems, who had already set their school calendars for the 2012-2013 school year, after the Alabama Legislature on Thursday overrode Gov. Robert Bentley’s executive amendment for the school calendar bill.

Bentley returned the bill to the Legis-lature on Tuesday, asking them to include an amendment that would allow local systems to opt out of the law.

The Alabama Senate voted 23-8 Thursday to pass the bill, despite the governor’s veto. The House voted 71-21 Tuesday to override the governor’s veto.

Both Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, and Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, voted against the measure. The two men represent Covington County in the legislature.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, said the law would extend the state’s tourist season and allow the state to collect more tax revenue.

Davis also maintains that a later start day will generate as much as $22 million in tax revenue because he said it would extend the amount of time tourists stay at the beach and other state attractions.

School boards could squeeze 180 instruction days in the shorter time frame allowed by the new law by shortening breaks during the school year. They also could add minutes to the remaining instructional days, as long as the number of instructional hours was at least 1,080 hours per school year.

For instance, lawmakers said a school board could add about 10 minutes to the length of school days and schedule only 175 instructional days for students in the next school year and still provide 1,080 instructional hours.

Now local school systems are scrambling to figure out how to make sure students have ample amount of time in school.

Under the previously approved school calendars, all three school systems were set to end the 2012-2013 year on May 23 and 24.

Opp City Schools was originally set to start Aug. 3, and have a fall break, but will “unlikely be able” to provide that for its students.

“(The bill) essentially condenses the calendar,” OCS superintendent Michael Smithart said. “We are going to await clarification from the state before we make any changes. We know we will start on the 20th, but there are a number of questions to answer. For instance, if we elect to lengthen days to meet the 1080-hour requirement, how does that affect teacher contract days? Questions like that need to be addressed prior to adopting a new calendar, he said.

Andalusia City Schools and Covington County Schools were set to begin the 2012-2013 school year on Aug. 6.

Both systems will now begin on Aug. 20, as well.

“We have requested that (state superintendent) Dr. Bice get with the school systems,” ACS superintendent Ted Watson said. “We hope to hear from him next week and have a calendar for the board to approve at the May 21 meeting. There are some things we have to do now because of this. We may have to change the hours for the kids; we’ll know next week. But we’ll try to work with everyone.”

Covington County Schools superintendent Terry Holley said he agreed with Watson.

“We are waiting on Dr. Bice,” he said. “There will be a meeting in Montgomery at a later date.”

Holley wasn’t sure if the county calendar would be approved at the next board meeting.

“We’ll get the information out to the students and parents as soon as we know,” he said.

An amendment added to the bill to gain support from the education community guaranteed that the divisors used to calculate teaching units would not be changed, as had been previously planned.

Watson said that’s one good thing for his school system. Andalusia City Schools saw enough growth in the current year that no teacher units will be lost.

“And we’ll gain half a unit,” he said. “That is monumental, to have had the enrollment to sustain a full load of teachers.”

Smithart said he’s anxious to see if the proposed additional revenue is added to the budget.

“The additional revenue to avoid further cuts will certainly justify the change,” he said. “I see that as a significant impact on children. Not increasing class sizes will be helpful. If there is no additional revenue added to the Education Trust Fund, then I think the legislature passed a tourism bill under the guise of education.”