0

2010-11 school calendar still uncertain

COVINGTON -- Officials at the Newton County School System still haven't decided when students will attend classes next school year.

"We are still looking at the calendar" for the 2010-11 school year, NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley said during the Newton County Board of Education's monthly meeting Tuesday.

Since last year, officials and a calendar committee have been reviewing a balanced calendar, an August start date calendar, a 169-day calendar and a four-day school week calendar.

NCSS has used a balanced calendar for several years. It would have students begin school on July 29 and continue until May 26, 2011, with several weeklong breaks throughout the school year to allow for fall, winter and spring breaks, a two-week long holiday break and a two-month summer break. It also schedules several early release days and full-day teacher work days, as well as other one- and two-day holidays throughout the school year.

At the school board's work session earlier this month, Whatley said NCSS would have to move fall break from the week of Oct. 11 to the week of Sept. 13 or not use that calendar option, as the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test for 10th-graders is scheduled during that week and can't be rescheduled.

An August start date calendar would have students begin school Aug. 4 and continue until May 24. It would allow for weeklong Thanksgiving and spring breaks, a two-week-long winter break and shorter breaks in October and February, in addition to other early release and short holidays during the school year.

A 169-day calendar calls for students to begin the year Aug. 12 and end May 19. Students would get weeklong Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks and a two-week long holiday break. The school day for elementary school students would run from 9 a.m. until 2:50 p.m. and for middle and high school students from 8:30 a.m. until 3:58 p.m.

The option is estimated to save $375,000 annually on bus fuel, utilities and salaries but would result in a significant pay cut for employees like bus drivers and school nutrition workers.

A four-day school week calendar would have students begin the school year July 28 and continue until May 25, with students attending classes Tuesday through Friday. It calls for weeklong Thanksgiving and spring breaks and a two-weeklong holiday break in addition to other holidays. There would be no fall or winter breaks. The school day for elementary school students would run from 8 a.m. to 3:17 p.m. and for middle and high school students 8:30 a.m. to 4:26 p.m.

It is said to save about $800,000 annually on bus fuel, utilities and salaries but again would significantly cut salaries of the lowest-paid NCSS employees like bus drivers, school nutrition workers and custodians.

In the end, none of those options may be the chosen calendar system.

NCSS and Newton County BOE officials are "trying to maximize instruction not knowing what the Legislature is going to do next year with the student calendar and employee work days," Whatley said.

At one point, they were waiting to hear if the Legislature would pass a bill that wouldn't allow students to start school earlier than after the third Sunday in August, but that bill has failed. They also are waiting to hear if the Legislature would require the start of the school year to be scheduled after Labor Day and if it would even allow four-day school weeks or calendars that are less than the current requirement of 180 days, although the school day would run longer if a shorter amount of days was required.

"We are trying to make the decision in the best interest of the students, staff and in the confines of the law," Whatley said during the school board's work session earlier this month. "We don't know what the Legislature is going to do."

And although NCSS is currently operating on a balanced calendar schedule, during the work session, board member C.C. Bates also brought up her concern regarding the continued starting and stopping of breaks throughout the school year.

"As a parent, I love the balanced calendar ... but I don't think this is the best calendar for students," she said.

Bates noted that the calendar provides only eight full weeks of school -- the remaining weeks include early release days and one- and two-day and week-long holidays throughout the rest of the school year.

"It's tough on the students and just as tough on teachers knowing they are going into a holiday or coming back from one," said school board member Johnny Smith.

Whatever the decision, school board Chair Cathy Dobbs wants the Newton County BOE to make the decision on the calendar -- not state officials.

"This is a local issue," she said. "If they are going to run this from the Gold Dome, then what am I doing here? It's really hard for local systems all over the state."

Local officials have not created a timeline as to when a decision regarding the 2010-11 school year calendar will be made and don't want to make any predictions.

"We are in a quandary," Whatley said. "We're going back to the drawing board and look at other options and realize they may change again. ... We don't know what's going to happen."