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BOE OKs student calendar

COVINGTON -- After months of research, surveys, discussions and waiting, the Newton County Board of Education has approved a student calendar for the 2010-11 school year.

During the school board's monthly meeting Tuesday, the board members approved a 178-day calendar recommended by Newton County School System Superintendent Steven Whatley.

"It's somewhat of a balanced calendar," Whatley said during the meeting.

Although the board discussed a recommended 180-day calendar at its work session earlier this month, Whatley recommended a revised calendar at the regular meeting.

"After preliminary review of the revenue for 2011 and given the authority granted to a board by the state to decrease the student year up to four days in emergencies, the decision has been made to eliminate two days due to financial emergency," Whatley said in a memo to board members.

Whatley said this is a cost-saving measure, as staff will be paid for only 178 days; this year, teachers were shorted six days due to state-enacted furlough days. In the past, NCSS Deputy Superintendent for Operations Dennis Carpenter has said that each furlough day reduces the NCSS budget by about $411,000 per day.

Several breaks also were reworked from what was proposed earlier this month.

"After the presentation of the proposed calendar ... several comments were made regarding having Thursday and Friday as student holidays during the fall," Whatley said in the memo. "It was felt that holidays on those days do affect student attendance at extracurricular activities."

He added that fall and Thanksgiving holidays also were reorganized due to similar concerns.

The revised calendar calls for students to report to schools for the start of the 2010-11 school year on Friday, Aug. 6 -- a change from the original proposal of Monday, Aug. 9.

As planned, students and staff will get their first break for Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 6. And, instead of the two-day extended break in October the system had proposed, students now will get a week-long fall break from Monday, Oct. 18, through Friday, Oct. 22.

Instead of the proposed week-long Thanksgiving break, students are scheduled off from Wednesday, Nov. 24, through Friday, Nov. 26.

The semester break remains from Monday, Dec. 20, until Friday, Dec. 31, but students may no longer get a Teacher Work Day on Monday, Jan. 3.

Schools will close again on Monday, Jan. 17, for the Martin Luther King Birthday Holiday. Then, students and staff will get a winter break from Wednesday, Feb. 16 through Monday, Feb. 21, instead of the proposed shortened break from Monday, Feb. 14 through 16.

After a student holiday on Monday, March 14, which originally was a teacher work day, students will break again for Spring Break on Monday, April 4 through 8.

The last day of the 2010-11 school year for students will be Thursday, May 26.

Board member Johnny Smith opposed the calendar.

"I didn't feel it was the best calendar for the children," he said Wednesday. "I know it is the one that was closest to the one voted on the Internet so much. ... It's got too many breaks, and breaks slow down children's progress."

As proposed earlier this month, the calendar does not include any early release days for parent conferences or professional learning activities, as was normal in previous school calendars.

Earlier this school year, the board discussed enacting a four-day calendar, in which students would attend classes four days per week for an extended period of time. It was said to save about $800,000.

But some school system officials and board members did not agree NCSS should implement that plan at this time.

Board member C.C. Bates said although it could save $800,000 in a time when they are looking for at least $10 million, she said it leaves students at home an extra day and could cause a loss of knowledge, as a 160- or a 165-day calendar would do.

"We've got to weigh up ... what's best for the kids," she said during the meeting. "It's cost effective versus student achievement."

Although the school board approved the student calendar, it's not done yet. Whatley did not propose a teacher work calendar -- which he proposed earlier this month to include teachers having preplanning from Monday, Aug. 2 through Friday, Aug. 5, a work day on March 14 and postplanning on Friday, May 27, and Tuesday, May 31, as Monday, May 30, would be a Memorial Day Holiday for school staff.

"It will be scheduled once state revenues are known and decisions can be made regarding any further cuts in the number of days for the contracts for teachers/certified staff," he said in the memo.