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Lengthening school year still topic of debate in Legislature

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Legislation that would lengthen the school year is apparently unpopular with teachers and parents in Harrison County.

House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, has consistently pushed for lengthening the school calendar despite resistance.

State law currently requires that 180 of 200 teacher contract days be devoted to student instruction. Mezzatesta contends some counties are not meeting that requirement because of faculty senate days, out-of-school environment days and snow days.

In an address on the House floor Thursday, Mezzatesta said faculty senate days also cost the state millions of dollars while students are deprived of instruction time.

"I've been criticized a lot but I'm going to tell you the truth. We're spending $37 million for time when there's no instruction," Mezzatesta said. "I don't know of any kind of business in this state that could spend this kind of money for nothing and get away with it.

"Maybe it's time for the Legislature not to look at what's politically popular, but at how to get the most bang for our buck."

The calendar bill is currently in the House Education Committee.

As it is currently written, the bill would allow school boards in counties with a history of snow cancellations to petition the state Board of Education for a waiver to begin the school year up to five days before Aug. 26.

The bill would also decrease from eight to four the number of non-instructional days allowed to be used before Jan. 10. A comprehensive study of the school calendar would be required in every county.

Also, the bill would allow four faculty senate days to be held on instructional days, with late arrivals or early dismissals of students. Three faculty senate days would be allowed on non-instructional days.

The bill would also eliminate the requirement of two days' notice before a faculty senate day, so they could be conducted on snow days. Up to three faculty senate days would be allowed on canceled school days.

"I think the teaching staff likes the calendar the way it is," said Harrison County Schools Superintendent Robert Kittle. "But it's hard to argue with having 180 instructional days."

Kittle added that in Harrison County, current policy provides for making up for faculty senate days by extending the school year.

Del. Barbara Warner, D-Harrison, said her office has been contacted by many county residents who oppose changing the calendar.

"I've had a lot of mail, e-mail and phone messages -- 99 percent of it from people who oppose it," Warner said.

Del. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, said he has not received calls about the school calendar, but believes the Legislature should examine the issue.

"I think the school calendar is a very important education issue that needs to be discussed," Cann said. "All the parties involved need to come to the table and come to a resolution that is best for the children's education."

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