TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

March 25, 2014

Still no snow day solution from lawmakers

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Senate and House negotiators, working on a bill to give school districts flexibility in making up snow days, each accused the other of moving the goal posts – but it’s the local school districts who may be penalized.

A severe winter led to some districts missing as many as 35 school days, making it difficult to meet the state mandate of 1,062 hours of instruction for the year and ending school before summer vacations begin for many families.

The two chambers passed different versions of measures to allow districts some relief, with the Senate seeking to ensure districts use every reasonable measure to meet the 1,062 hours while the House plan made it easier for affected districts to waive up to 10 days.

A conference committee made up of members from both chambers and headed by Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, of the House and Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, of the Senate, began negotiating Friday and appeared close to an agreement by mid-day.

As described Friday by Stacy and Wilson, the compromise would “encourage” districts to find ways to meet the 1,062 hours and allow them to attend school on primary Election Day if no school in the district is used as a polling place; add time to the school day so long as the day didn’t exceed seven hours; and setting a concrete deadline for the end of school by June 11.

But those districts which still couldn’t reach 1,062 hours under that plan would be able to waive up to 10 days – and could do so without appealing to Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday.

But over the weekend, lawmakers checked with school districts to see how it would work for them, Stacy said, and most said it provided little help. Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, also said word coming back from districts over the weekend indicated many couldn’t reach the 1,062 hours by June 11.

That prompted the Senate to revise Friday’s tentative agreement to make the last school day Friday, June 13, a two-day extension compared to Friday’s negotiations. Senate negotiators also apparently wrote the “conference report” to give Holliday final authority to grant waive any days for individual districts.

But when the report reached the House, Stacy and House conferees weren’t happy. Stacy said the weekend’s investigation indicated the tentative Friday deal would only help two affected districts and the Senate simply drafted a conference report reflecting its wishes and sent it to the House without any face to face meetings.

“As of today, we don’t have any agreement,” Stacy told the full House just before the chamber adjourned.

“We’re willing to meet but we’re only interested in talking about relief for all the districts and not just two of them,” Stacy said afterward.

Wilson also said a deal on how to help local districts “is dead at this point.”

The number of missed days varies widely among school districts which are supposed to “build in” a number of extra days for bad weather based on the highest number of missed days in any given year during the past five. Nevertheless, at least 10 districts have missed more than 30 days this year.

Districts don’t want to extend the calendar much into June and face the ire of parents who’ve made vacation plans. But they need an answer from Frankfort soon because they’ve got to determine an end date to accommodate end-of-the-year testing and set dates for graduation.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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