Calendar bill comes due

Published 1:50 am Sunday, January 15, 2012

Adding five state-mandated instructional days to Beaufort County Schools’ calendar could cost the school system a quarter of a million dollars.
The tab for putting 102 buses on the road comes to $4,387.26 per day — or $21,936.30 for five additional days, said Sarah Hodges, spokeswoman for the school system.
At a time when education budgets are being slashed, a bill approved by the N.C. General Assembly is requiring an extra investment by school systems across North Carolina.
The bill now has the force of law.
BCS Superintendent Don Phipps asserts the measure is one that deserves a second look by the Legislature.
“With the changes that the General Assembly made last year, the calendar bill which impacts how we operate our opening and closing of schools changed the number of instructional days from 180 to 185,” Phipps explained. “It also changed the number of instructional hours for a year from 1,000 to 1,025.”
By law, the North Carolina school year must begin no earlier than Aug. 25 and end no later than June 10, but the calendar bill put the squeeze on the school schedule, forcing the local system to jettison four workdays Phipps said were essential to teachers’ professional development.
The old schedule provided a teacher workday at the end of every grading period.
“That’s not in the law anymore — there’s no provision for it,” Phipps said.
This tightening of the system’s scheduling options, not the cost, is the major issue at hand, especially with the federal rollout of common-core education standards changing the way teachers teach, according to Phipps.
“What we’re left with this coming year is a calendar that, from the time the kids start school on the 27th of August … until they get out in June, there is one teacher workday in the schedule — and that’s it,” he pointed out.
The superintendent would prefer that lawmakers grant more local control and flexibility in drafting school calendars.
He’s taken the matter up with the two members of Beaufort County’s legislative delegation, Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Sen. Stan White, D-Dare.
The legislator who may hold the key to resolving Phipps’ concerns is Sen. Jerry Tillman, co-chairman of the Senate education committee.
Tillman, a retired school administrator, said he’s open to re-examining the calendar bill this year.
“I am considering tweaking the present bill,” Tillman reported in a telephone interview from his Archdale home.
“My thoughts — this is Jerry Tillman’s thoughts — is that we could better do this by adding 30 minutes to each school day,” the Republican continued. “That would take some pressure off of the stop and start date.”
Of the political chances of the bill-tweaking, he said, “I would be surprised if we had much opposition to that at all.”
On the House side, Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, referenced taking another look at the bill during a town-hall meeting a couple of months ago, said spokesman Jordan Shaw.
“I’m sure that will be something that gets discussed in the process of going through this issue this year,” Shaw said.
Phipps sees legislative action on the bill as essential, especially given the always-present possibility of closing schools because of inclement weather.
The system had to make up five days because of last year’s Hurricane Irene.
“It has wreaked havoc on our calendar,” Phipps said. “If that were to happen next year, we just don’t have days anywhere that we can draw from other than (required) annual leave days.”
To learn more about the local school calendar for 2012-2013, visit the BCS website,