Education

Wake County considers longer but fewer school days

Wake County students could spend five more minutes in school each day in return for having two fewer days of classes for the 2016-17 school year.

Wake school leaders say they’re only considering having fewer, but longer school days because North Carolina’s school calendar law limits when they can hold classes. School districts are wrestling with options such as having fewer days of classes because the calendar law will force them to start later than normal and end earlier than usual in the 2016-17 school year.

“It’s the least of the bad options,” school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said at Monday’s student achievement committee meeting. “It’s a shame that we have to look at that for our calendar.”

The issue is pitting educators against the tourism industry and parents who want to preserve long summer vacations. The calendar law, first passed in 2004, still has strong legislative support.

“We don’t want to revisit the issue of preserving the summers for the kids, for the parents, so that people can take their vacations and our businesses that depend on summer tourism have an opportunity to flourish,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County.

Under the law, traditional-calendar schools can start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. For the 2016-17 school year, that means classes can’t start before Aug. 29 or end after June 9.

Wake’s initial 2016-17 draft calendars for traditional-calendar schools had four teacher workdays built in between the first and last day of classes. In contrast, eight teacher workdays are built in between the first and last day for the 2015-16 school year.

Teachers use workdays for training and catching up on their paperwork. They can also be used as weather makeup days.

New draft calendars presented Monday would add two workdays by cutting Wake from the traditional total of 180 days of classes to 178.

“I do believe that – notwithstanding the fact that it sort of flies in the face of looking at academic time and days of instruction and support – that for our district I tend to lean towards a 178-day option right now,” Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, told board members. “But it is begrudgingly that I go there.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system is considering a similar approach for 2016-17, with options under consideration for 176 or 178 days.

School districts can have 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction, an option made possible by the legislature in 2012. Most districts follow the time requirement.

Wake administrators want to pair the two fewer school days with adding five minutes to the day.

Adding the time would give Wake flexibility should bad weather force schools to close during the 2016-17 school year.

The school board may vote on the calendars in June.

In the meantime, school districts are continuing to lobby for changes in the calendar law. Leanne Winner, lobbyist for the N.C. School Boards Association, said the law needs to be changed this year because next year is too late for the 2016-17 school year.

“It is a real concern that there are no ideal choices for the ’16-17 year, and that’s why through the legislative process there’s been a big push to try to resolve this now,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui

See the details

Go to bit.ly/1FbWkk7 to view draft 180-day calendars for traditional-calendar schools.

See bit.ly/1cqO2K3 to view draft 178-day calendars.

Go to bit.ly/1L0kD5f to view what Wake schools would use if not for the state’s calendar law.

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