School board seeks waiver

Published 9:40 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Beaufort County’s public school leaders will, for the second year in a row, ask permission to shorten the instructional calendar, a move that will mean changes to the 2012-2013 school year calendar they approved earlier this year.

The Beaufort County Board of Education on Tuesday chose to seek a waiver from a state law that requires public school districts to lengthen the instructional calendar by five days.

In one of the special provisions in the budget bill approved last year, the N.C. General Assembly added five instructional days to the public-school calendar and increased the required instructional hours to 1,025, but it did not extend the school year.

As part of that provision, state legislators gave the State Board of Education the authority to grant waivers if it “finds that it will enhance student performance to do so.”

The state board granted Beaufort County Schools a waiver for the 2011-2012 school year, but cautioned that it would be less likely to grant such waivers again this year.

As a result, local school leaders did not seek a waiver from the provision for the coming school year. But Tuesday they agreed to do so after BCS Superintendent Don Phipps reported that, contrary to its previous stand on the issue, the state board had granted waivers for the coming school year.

School board Chairman F. Mac Hodges, in an interview Tuesday, said school leaders expect to learn the fate of the waiver request in time for the local board to adopt a revised calendar at its meeting in April.

By law, the North Carolina school year must begin no earlier than Aug. 25 and end no later than June 10.

Local education leaders and some state leaders have routinely criticized that schedule because it forces high-school students to take their final exams after the Christmas break and makes it difficult for college-bound students to more effectively compete for admittance to their preferred schools.

When they approved the school calendar in January, many local board members said it left little room for changes that may be required as a result of natural disasters such as last year’s Hurricane Irene.

In other action, the board:

  • Unanimously approved a three-page personnel agenda that includes accepting the resignation effective March 16 of Lisa Tate, principal of John Small Elementary School, and naming Joe Tkatch interim principal of the school from March 19 through June 15.
  • Voted unanimously to approve the first phase of a project to improve the drainage at Northeast Elementary School and seek approval from the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners for the project. The project calls for the construction of underground piping in the front of the school and grading in the rear of the school, along with improvements that would remove standing water from the handicapped parking space at the school and adding concrete walks in the rear of the school to provide for wheel-chair access to the area in the event of an emergency. The cost of the project is $140,985.29. If grading does not improve drainage behind the school, the school board will consider a second phase of the project that would add drainage pipes in that area at an additional cost of $103,007, according to information presented to the board.
  • Gave tentative approval to a policy change that prohibits teachers to award grades or extra credit to students who return progress reports or report cards. The policy is scheduled for final approval by the board in April.
  • Gave final approval to a series of policy changes that govern the activities of the school board. The board asked Phipps to develop a policy that requires all school board members to be present when a new contract for a school superintendent is subject to a vote of the board and requires prior notification that such a vote is scheduled.
  • Approved a schedule of summer hours as presented to the board by Phipps.

All members attended the meeting.

The board is scheduled to meet at 6:15 p.m. Monday to begin discussion of the school system’s local operating and capital budgets for the 2012-2013 school year.