New laws affect local schools

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Families planning summer vacations around school schedules shouldn’t set itineraries in stone just yet.

The Legislature has passed a bill that would require both Pike County Schools and Troy City Schools to change their recently-adopted calendars for the next school year.

“I think it is going to be unpopular with our faculty members and our students and our parents,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell.

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The bill sets parameters for school boards to build their calendars by. According to the bill, schools can’t start more than two weeks before Labor Day and must end by the Friday before Memorial Day.

Both Pike County and Troy City schools must now change their start date currently scheduled to be Aug. 13, 2012. Pike County Schools will also have to change their last day of school that, right now, is May 30, 2013.

Alabama law mandates that schools offer instruction for six hours a day for 180 days. However, the proposed bill allows systems to extend their days and have fewer school days, so long as the schools still have the total number of required hours and don’t cut teacher pay for working fewer days.

Bazzell said he doesn’t foresee county schools lengthening their days. Instead, there are five days in the school calendar that can be cut to create a schedule that sandwiches in between the Legislatures proposed parameters.

“We are going to lose five days of instruction because of this bill which I think is bad for the students,” Bazzell said.

While proponents of the bill argue that an extended summer will generate more revenue for the state due to family vacations, travel and other spending, Bazzell said the Legislative Fiscal Office is being tight-lipped about whether or not they actually expect revenue from the plan.

“The Fiscal Office isn’t counting on that bill creating anything,” Bazzell said.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Lee Hicks said that the committee of teachers and parents who were appointed to create the calendar adopted by the school board at their last meeting will be reconvening in a couple of weeks.

Hicks said other school systems around the state have issued sample calendars the committee would be reviewing and they would weigh the benefits and detriments of both day extensions and cutting five days from the calendar.

“We will follow the letter of the law that is provided by the state,” Hicks said, adding that he hopes to work with the county schools to create a similar calendar.

The bill must still be signed by Gov. Robert Bentley before schools are required to revamp their calendars.

Another bill affecting schools on the local level is a proposal that would make enrollment for 6-year-olds mandatory. State law currently mandates students attend school at 7 years old. The bill would apply to children in first grade, not in kindergarten.

Both the House and the Senate have cleared the bill and it is now on Bentley’s desk for review.

“I think it is going to benefit the kids,” Hicks said. “I think anytime you can get students into school earlier, it will promote a better opportunity for growth.”

Hicks said that he estimated about 70 to 80 percent of parents were already following that rule, even though it isn’t mandatory.

Bazzell agreed that the mandatory school enrollment bill is positive. He said he doesn’t see a downside.

“It will make sure that those younger kids actually attend schools,” Bazzell said, noting that absences among younger students tend to be higher than others.

The Alabama Senate also approved an education budget on Tuesday night that reduces spending on public schools and colleges, cuts teaching positions and increases class size. The Senate voted on a budget of $5.5 billion for the upcoming school year. The House has yet to approve the budget.

“There is a lot of uncertainty, right now, whether we are going to have a budget and whether or not this school start date will survive,” Bazzell said. “Right now, we are just planning for the worst case scenario in terms of what the revenues will be. We will prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”