ROCKINGHAM — State Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, filed a bill this week to give local boards of education the authority to control the start and finish of the school year.
If passed, the bill will go into effect for the 2017-2018 school year in school districts of Anson, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland and Stanly counties.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, traditional public schools must have a “start date no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11 (unless a weather-related calendar waiver has been approved, year-round school, charter school or cooperative innovative high school.) If waiver is approved the start date can be no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 19.”
“This bill is common sense, because our kids start to school too late in the year, which causes them not to be able to take their exams until after the Christmas holidays,” McInnis said. “So they go to school learning all they need to make a good test score, go home for the Christmas holiday break, and come back and take their test, with grades reduced by as much as 3 to 5 percent.”
McInnis, a former member of the Richmond County Board of Education, said the law unnecessarily burdens local school districts with distinct needs.
“It’s a law that was put up to appease the folks in the hospitality industry in Nags Head, the Outer Banks and the mountains,” he explained. “I appreciate those places and what they do and what they have to offer — but I think the children are more important.”
He added that giving local districts more flexibility in planning the yearly calendar would allow them to bring testing preparation closer to test dates, resulting in increased performance.
“Especially for students who are going on to institutions of higher learning where GPA is an important factor,” McInnis said.
Current calendar law mandates all traditional public school calendars must: cover at least nine calendar months, have a minimum of 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction, and have at least nine teacher workdays. “Local boards shall designate two workdays on which teachers may take accumulated vacation leave. Local boards may designate the remaining workdays as days teachers may take accumulated vacation leave.”
Additionally, calendars must have a minimum of ten annual vacation leave days, have the same or an equivalent number of legal holidays occurring within the school calendar as those designated by the state personnel commission for state employees.
Also, “school shall not be held on Sunday and Veterans Day shall be a holiday for all public school personnel and for all students enrolled in the public schools.”
“There’s an hour adjustment that can be used,” McInnis said regarding the 1,025-hour model as an alternative to the 185 days. “But when you get into the hours, you’re dealing with parents trying to get their children into daycare and you’re messing with peoples’ lives. This bill would give them the flexibility to make a school calendar that best works for Richmond County. Since we have the early-college high school now, it would be an advantage to mirror the community college schedule. It exacerbates the problem further because they are not aligned.”
Richmond County Board of Education Chairman Wiley Mabe said changes to the existing law would be welcomed.
“It would make it a lot more flexible for the school system in each county be able to have a little bit of room on that calendar,” he said. “It’s mighty tight. We could even up the starts and stops, and the holidays and the workdays. The number of hours and number of days required by law are finite right now. There’s really no flexibility except in the holidays — and that’s no flexibility at all.”
Mabe said that just as no two school districts are exactly the same, school district calendar needs should be evaluated locally.
“We put it on our legislators to represent us,” he said. “And we’ve got two good ones in Tom McInnis and (state representative) Ken Goodman, and I hope they stay with us a long time.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.