Bill would let local school systems change calendar start, end dates
SALISBURY — Local school boards could soon choose to start the school year in early August and let students out by the end of May.
N.C. Rep. Harry Warren is sponsoring a local bill that would give the Rowan-Salisbury School System the ability to decide when its academic year will start and end. N.C. Rep. Carl Ford is sponsoring a nearly identical bill that would apply to the Kannapolis City School System.
There are now about two dozen local bills to give school systems the added flexibility in their calendars, Warren said.
“I have always believed in local control yielding better results,” Warren said. “At the chamber’s legislative breakfast, I had mentioned giving local control back to the schools. Afterward, Rita Foil approached me and asked me if I had gotten an email from someone with the school system.”
Currently, unless they are granted a weather-related waiver, North Carolina schools must start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.
Colby Cochran, director of accountability for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, emailed Warren to ask for a bill granting more control of the academic calendar.
“As soon as I came back up (to Raleigh), I had drafting go ahead and draw me up a bill, and I went ahead and submitted it,” Warren said.
He said lawmakers might combine all of the local bills into one piece of legislation that affects all of the school systems making the request. They also could choose to rewrite its school calendar law for all systems in the state.
Cochran sent letters to both Warren and Ford urging them to pass a statewide bill that would allow school boards to set their start dates as early as Aug. 1.
“This bill will provide the flexibility that is needed by all school systems to develop more educationally-sound calendars,” he wrote. “The benefits are too numerous to address in this letter.”
Cochran attached a sample 180-day calendar for 2013-14 that could be passed with more flexibility. In that calendar, school starts Aug. 8 and ends May 22, with teacher work days beginning as early as Aug. 1.
In case that legislation doesn’t pass, Cochran asked Warren to draft the local bill.
Richard Miller, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, said he supports Cochran’s effort.
“It benefits the local system to be able to adopt a calendar that meets our needs, not one dictated by the hotel/motel associations,” Miller said. “We have different calendar needs than the eastern part of the state.”
The law benefits the tourism industry, he said, by providing more summer labor. It also gives families more time for vacations.
Miller said the request didn’t stem from a specific calendar problem this year, but from general concerns. To meet the state’s required hours keep next year’s calendar at 180 days — preserving teacher work days — the board had to extend elementary school hours slightly.
During the February meeting when the calendar was set, board member agreed that those work days are vital for teachers, and more flexibility would help. They didn’t discuss how early they would like to start school, though.
Shifting the school year earlier could also directly benefit students, Miller said.
“Data shows that finishing the semester before Christmas improves student performance rather than having the exams in January,” Miller said.
Superintendent Judy Grissom added that ending the school year sooner also helps graduates transition to higher education - especially if they are taking summer classes.
When the school year ends later in June, she said, “it’s more difficult for students going to community college, or even some four-year colleges.”
Todd Adams, vice chairman of the Kannapolis City Schools Board of Education, said he likes the idea.
“Although I’m in favor of a traditional summer break, I would like to see us have more local control of the calendar,” Adams said. “I don’t want to see us starting going back to school the very first of August.”
He said each school district has a different set of circumstances, and the calendar’s start and end dates affect them differently. It also leaves little choice in how many planning days to take or where they fall.
“There’s not a lot of flexibility,” Adams said. “By the time you put in every day you need to - the mandatory work days, holidays, start date and end date - the calendar kind of paints itself.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.