CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Bill 4171, which could bring changes to school calendars statewide, is still sitting on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s desk, not yet signed.
Dr. Michael Martirano, West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools, and Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, have both expressed their wish for the governor to veto the bill.
Espinosa said while he supported parts of the bill and liked the idea of its concept at first, the bill that was passed is not something he wishes to see instated in West Virginia.
“Senate Bill 359, which went into place this past school year, gave local school districts flexibility when it came to when to start and end school, and I believe we have seen this bill have a positive impact,” Espinosa said.
House Bill 4171 would prevent schools from starting the academic year before Aug. 10 and requires school to close by June 10.
“I am all for giving more power to the local school boards, more authority when it comes to their school calendars, which I believe SB 359 has done, and to turn around a year later and take that away by requiring a hard start and end date, I think wouldn’t be to the benefit of our local school boards,” Espinosa added.
The bill originally passed the Senate, 32-2, and the House approved changes to the bill during its floor session, approximately two weeks ago.
Both Martirano and Espinosa fear that parts of the bill could actually create more issues surrounding schools’ calendars.
“I am very concerned about hard start and end date,” Martirano said.
“Each of our counties have unique needs. Take Greenbrier for instance. I believe they started somewhere around Aug. 6 last year because they host the state fair and many of their students are involved in that, so they like to make sure the students have off. With a set start date of Aug. 10, they may not be able to make their needs work within that time frame,” Martirano added.
Martirano said he does want to give flexibility to the state boards.
“I want to achieve a balanced calendar and I am all about providing the local control and adhering to the maximum instructional time and the hard start and end doesn’t allow for that,” Martirano said.
The thought behind the hard dates was to prevent county school systems from continuing classes well into the summer to make up days missed due to bad weather.
Espinosa also said he was opposed to the start and end date requirements because it could affect some school systems’ ability to end the first semester before Christmas. He said that many school boards like to end the semester before the holiday because then students are able to take their final exams, go home and relax on winter break and not have to worry about coming back after the holidays and worry about catching up and studying after such a long break in school.
Another concept the bill holds is it would allow schools to extend the length of the school day and use the accrued time to reach the equivalent of the required 180 days of instruction.
Espinosa said when this idea was originally proposed, he supported it because there was a limit.
“At first there was talk of allowing three to five days worth of accrued time to help school districts, and that seemed to be a range of time that the governor’s office and Department of Ed agreed on,” Espinosa said.
“However the ultimate version that passed allowed unlimited accrued time,” Espinosa added.
Martirano said he doesn’t agree with the accrued time concept as it stands presently in the bill.
“If you look at all the requirements the county school boards are facing, they wouldn’t have the ability to use unlimited accrued time but it does break down to approximately eight to ten days, and I think that’s way too many,” Martirano said.
Martirano said there is currently a state policy, Policy 3234, that deals with reimaging time. He said he is encouraging local boards to use that kind of time because under the policy it gives the boards five days to use.
“Three counties have summited proposals for that. Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties, and I am hoping that a majority of them follow,” Martirano said.
“This is a way to respond to the 21st century and to create instructional continuity moving forward,” he added.
Martirano said one example is that if students were home because of a snow day teachers would be able to send out an appropriate assignment in order to still get in instructional time and learning for students.
Another focus Matirano has for the state is the “summer slide and summer regression.” He said he wants to think outside the box, like other states and countries, in order to meet all the educational needs for every student in the state all year round.
“Maximizing education for all kids. A balanced calendar approach,” Martirano said.
Martirano added he doesn’t believe there needs to be any further discussion on local school boards’ calendars.
“We don’t need to pinch the counties any further, it’s local decision,” he said.
Manny Arvon, superintendent for Berkeley County Schools, said during the school board’s meeting Monday evening that he is happy with its proposed calendar for the 2016-’17 school year.
“As to the calendar bill, I’m waiting. But I think our calendar is set up to handle the legislation, either way I don’t think it would have anything to do with our start dates and end dates,” Arvon said.
-Staff writer Katiann Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182, or at Twitter.com/KmarshallJN.