Superintendents support proposed school calendar bill

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A South Alabama legislator has prefiled a bill that would give control back to local school districts when it comes to calendars and local school superintendents are in support of the bill.

The new bill, which is being sponsored by Rep. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, and Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, would restore local control to school districts setting calendars by allowing boards to meet the 180 instructional days based on an hourly equivalent of no less than 1,080 hours.

The Legislature passed the Flexible School Calendar Act in 2012, which established parameters for local school boards to set academic calendars. The bill included a two-year mandate, dictating the start and end dates for the school year. The act was supposed to generate revenue from tourism.

The bill expired at the end of last school year.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson supports local control.

“I welcome the efforts made by our legislators to return the flexibility the local school system,” he said. “No one knows the climate of the system better than the local people. It just seems natural that we would determine our calendar.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart agreed.

“As far as the bill is concerned, I am a proponent of the hourly equivalency and local control,” he said. “Our calendar this year utilizes that flexibility, and I think it has worked well for us. School calendars must be the product of the local board. There are so many variables in formulating a school calendar that a one-size-fits-all mentality will not work.”

Covington County Schools Superintendent Shannon Driver said local control is vital.

“Our local systems have unique needs and challenges and I concur that it is best when local school systems have control,” he said.

Watson and Smithart also agreed each system has its own needs.

“We, Opp City, Andalusia City, and Covington County, try to work together on calendars when we can,” Smithart said. “We try to coordinate some of the holidays, but even in our communities there are specific needs that may not allow us to mirror each other.”

Both systems are in the planning stages of next year’s calendar.

“We would like to do something similar to this past year,” Watson said. “We were able to allow our teachers to get credit through flex days, which allows them to come in during the summer time and do professional development during three days. We have received positive response.”

Smithart said they will soon meet with faculty and parent representatives.

All three systems plan to discuss and pass their calendars in the near future, before the legislative session begins March 3.