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Debate on Kanawha school calendar riles many

County school officials are already tiring of the controversy surrounding Kanawha County's 2014-15 school calendar -- and it isn't anywhere near over.

At its regular meeting Thursday, the school board was presented with a slate of options for the new school calendar. There were two main options: one included a mid-August start date, the other incorporated a controversial early August start date similar to the one used this school year.

The school board voted last year to approve a calendar that looked drastically different than those from years past -- school started Aug. 9, the earliest start date in the county's history.

The idea was to wrap up the first semester just before winter break, preventing students from having to cram for semester exams over the holiday vacation. The idea met with mixed reaction among school board members and no small amount of controversy among students and parents who preferred the usual calendar option.

A survey of county faculty Monday, taken to gauge the faculty's preferences for the calendar, only prompted more controversy. Before they voted in a Monday faculty senate meeting, staff was told that if the mid-August start date is approved, the logistics for distributing monthly paychecks would be skewed so that employees won't get paid in the month of September.

Dinah Adkins, president of the Kanawha County branch of the West Virginia Education Association, said this amounts to repressing the faculty's vote.

"Many called me and said, I don't want the early start but I can't go a month without a paycheck," she said. "Now the process has no integrity .<!p>.<!p>. What you have now is not a vote on the school calendar that is best for students and employees you have a vote for when teachers want to be paid."

Duerring characterized the move as "full disclosure," saying it was only fair to let faculty and staff know the particulars of the payroll situation up front.

"That wasn't backing anyone into a corner," he said.

The school board will discuss the calendar again at its November meeting. But board members are already floating the idea of using whatever calendar is chosen for the next few years -- instead of just one, as has been customary in the system.

"The bottom line is that we really have to come to some kind of agreement on what kind of a start date we have as a system and stick to it every year," board member Robin Rector said. "It's unproductive and inefficient to have this emotional discussion every year."

Superintendent Ron Duerring said officials could consider approving a sort of calendar template for the next several years to avoid another resource-draining controversy in the coming years.

"I hope we can agree to something," board member Bill Raglin said. "It's the most counterproductive exercise that I can imagine us going through."

There wasn't as much consensus on what next year's calendar should actually look like: Board president Pete Thaw doesn't believe a weeklong break is needed for Thanksgiving. Board member Becky Jordon wants there to be a short break in the spring, so it's not such a long haul without one between January and the week of spring break.

"We did that once before and then we were accused of canceling Easter," Duerring said, to laughter from the board and roomful of parents. "And just so you know, we really don't have the power to do that."

At the Thursday meeting, parent Donna Caruthers told the school board that the early start date robbed her of time with her son, whose athletic activities keep him occupied at school for weeks after the academic year has ended (school sports abide by the state-mandated athletics schedule, no matter the academic schedule).

"The schedule goes on and the practices go on, so our students are not released during those times, they're still stuck and that is time when we would like to be with them," she said.

"Plus we all grew up having our summers off, and we turned out okay."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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