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Wood County BOE critical of calendar legislation

Wood County Board of Education President Rick Olcott speaks at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Board members voiced their concerns over new bills proposed in the West Virginia Legislature to prohibit school systems from beginning school earlier than Sept. 1. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG — Proposed legislation to move the start of the school year to September will prove disruptive for parents and takes local decision making away from local elected boards, members of the Wood County Board of Education say.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, members commented on two sister bills — Senate Bill 661 and House Bill 4745 — which have been sent to their respective Senate and House Education committees. Both bills seek to change the minimum number of minutes of instructional time per day to “an average of five hours per day throughout the instructional term,” according to summary language in both bills. The bills further “prohibit the instructional term from commencing before Sept. 1” and allows school boards to forgo announcing calendar hearings in local newspapers, instead posting those announcements on district web sites.

A similar House bill introduced earlier in the session by Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, was killed on third reading last month. House Bill 2433 would have required the school year to start no earlier than Sept. 1 and end no later than June 7. Counties that needed to start earlier or end later would have to receive a waiver from the state Board of Education.

The bill failed 47-50.

Board member Justin Raber said while the new bills introduced in both chambers are slightly different than Kelly’s bill, the same argument applies.

“We continue to deal with laws that want to restrict the local school system’s ability to set the school calendar,” Raber said. “It really concerns me.”

Board President Rick Olcott said local officials already welcome input from the community and base the calendar on local needs.

“There seems to be some concern (at the state level) of local boards not listening, and I’m not sure why,” Olcott said. “We do seek a lot of public input and we do listen.”

Olcott said the new bills seem largely driven by lawmakers from a handful of counties and may be more driven by tourism than academic needs. Olcott also said if the bills pass — and he believes there is a good chance they will — parents as well as the board will find themselves placed in a difficult situation.

The bills “still requires 180 days of instruction, still have a lot of the other constraints,” he said. “The input from the community of do you want spring break, do you want Thanksgiving week off … that may determine how late we go to school and that would take it almost into July.”

Raber said he believes the calendar bills are another example of local state representatives seeming to oppose local decision making without actually speaking to local officials. Raber and Olcott both pointed to several local state representatives who spoke out repeatedly against closure and consolidation plans in Wood County. Those plans ultimately were approved by the local school board and state Board of Education.

“Give the local counties the option to figure out what meets and meshes best with their community needs and school system needs,” Olcott said.

Michael Erb can be reached at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

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