School schedule still up in the air

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Officials track bill progress

By Brandon Mattingly

The Washington County School Board is no closer to settling the remainder of the 2013-14 district schedule after Monday night’s monthly meeting, because the state legislature doesn’t appear to be any closer to deciding how many days districts will even be required to meet.

House Bill 211 would allow districts to shorten the school year from its current 170-day schedule to a 165-day model and would also grant permission for schools to be in session during May’s primary elections (May 20). The only problem is that the bill, which recently passed in the state Senate, is seeing opposition in the House, particularly from House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonburg. Stumbo supports legislation that passed in the House that would allow districts to waive up to 10 snow days.

If House Bill 211 were to be approved, districts would be required to reach 1,062 instructional hours. Washington County has already taken measures to be in session on March 28 (teacher work day) and May 26 (Memorial Day). Even with the change in those two dates, Washington County students are on schedule to be in session until Monday, June 9, with the current 170-day setup.

Superintendent Robin Cochran informed the board on Monday that the latest update she had received on the bill came at 5:30 p.m. and that while no action had been taken, there was hope that a 165-day requirement would be worked out.

Should House Bill 211 pass, districts would have the option to be in session on Election Day if their facilities are not used for polling. The local school district has no facility that is used as  a polling site, and Cochran said being in session that day would be a “no-brainer” in an effort to shorten the schedule.

Also, if the bill passes, Washington County school officials are confident that something can be worked out to end the school year by Friday, May 30. Even with the bill in place and the assumption that class would be in session on May 20, WC would still need to make up 10 hours of instruction over the next two months to reach that goal.

Some of the options for the district to consider to reach those 10 hours is taking two days from spring break (March 31-April 4) or extending the daily schedule by at least 13 minutes starting Monday. With spring break just two weeks away, time restraints make both options difficult and make it necessary for state officials to come to a conclusion by the end of this week. Cochran and Board Chair Patsy Lester each expressed the need to let faculty, students and parents know the fate of their spring break as soon as possible. Cochran also expressed that leaving at least part of the break intact is necessary.

“They haven’t passed a bill, so I can’t tell you what my recommendation even is to you at this time. I do think that if you’re going to take spring break, you take two days,” Cochran said. “You don’t take the whole week because people have a mindset that they’re off at some point during the spring. I know we’ve been off and today we were off, but it’s a different kind of off.”

Board members mentioned decisions of surrounding school districts, as it was noted that St. Dominic will be in session for three days of its originally scheduled spring break, while Marion County will also take back two days of their vacation. The district’s final plan is due to the Kentucky Department of Education by May 1, regardless of the approval or rejection of House Bill 211. Still, Cochran said most districts are still trying a wait-and-see approach.

“Most people are waiting to see what this bill says, then they’re going to go back and change it,” she said.

After lengthy discussions, the board voted unanimously to grant Cochran the power to make changes to the schedule once state officials make a decision. Chad Willis, director of pupil personnel, said Cochran’s options include adding minutes to the beginning or end of the school day, as well as potentially shortening recess by five minutes. As of press time, no final decision had been made.