North Carolina public school systems shouldn't count on another exemption from a longer school year.
This school year, the State Board of Education allowed nearly all of the state's 115 school districts to ignore a new legislative requirement that extends the school year by five days. But the response is expected to be less positive today when the state board discusses requests from 69 school districts and four charter schools to again exempt them from adding five days to the 2012-13 school year.
"The intent of the General Assembly was to have a longer school year, so I would think that waivers would be the exception rather than the rule this time," said Bill Harrison, chairman of the state board.
But rejection of the waiver requests, school officials say, would put them in a bind. They say that it will cost them money to run buses for five additional days. Also, many school districts want to use the days to train teachers on the new state curriculum being introduced in the 2012-13 school year.
"These extra days are coming out of professional development, and I think that has as much impact on student achievement as two extra days or three extra days," said Wake County school board member Kevin Hill.
Wake County, the state's largest school district, is asking for a partial waiver. It wants to add only three more days of classes.
But 58 districts, including Johnston and Orange counties, are requesting full waivers.
The continued requests put districts at odds with state Republican legislators who added the additional school days - part of what they say is a way to boost student learning.
As the $19.7 billion state budget was being developed in June, Republicans in the state Senate inserted a provision saying that the school year should now be 185 days instead of the old standard of 180 days.
State Sen. Jerry W. Tillman, a Randolph County Republican and co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Tuesday that legislators expect school districts to schedule the extra days for the 2012-13 school year.
"We need them to follow the law," Tillman said.
Schools want training
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said it's unfair to expect teachers, especially new ones, to learn about the new curriculum without time during the school year for training.
The curriculum changes are part of new push to have all U.S. public school students achieve common standards of education. The Obama administration encourages states to support the push to improve their chances of receiving federal education funding under the "Race to the Top" program.
Chapel Hill wasn't on the list of districts requesting waivers compiled Tuesday by state education officials, but LoFrese said the district has requested a waiver. The district's schedule for the next school year only has one full teacher workday between the first and last day of classes.
Tillman doesn't find the concerns about lack of time for professional development to be compelling enough to grant waivers a second year.
"They'll have to deal with professional development the best way they can," he said.
But school leaders are hoping that legislators will make changes next year, such as providing additional funding.
Among the changes being requested by the N.C. School Boards Association is that legislators ease or eliminate the state law passed in 2004 that says classes can't start before Aug. 25 or end after June 10. School officials say the law - backed by the tourism industry - forces them to scratch teacher workdays to add additional days for students.
"I think most people would like to have the extra days," Harrison said. "But it would have helped to have talked with the educators first."