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Ohio lawmakers push back school schedules decision

TNS Regional News • Feb 27, 2014 at 11:57 AM

An effort to give schools a lesson plan on what they can expect in terms of planning the rest of their school years because of days lost to blizzards and subzero temperatures fell apart Wednesday with no plan to resolve the dispute before March 11.

The Senate unanimously approved a bill that would have forgiven three additional days of instruction, on top of five already permitted, but only after schools have taken advantage of holidays, home assignments, and other back-up plans to make up four of the days they’ve called off.

A fourth day could then be written off for students, but not for teachers, who would spend a day in professional development that would count toward the state-mandated minimum school year.

The House, however, voted 57-39 to reject the changes, setting up a six-member, bipartisan conference committee to hammer out a compromise capable of passing both chambers. With that, the House and Senate went home for two weeks.

The version that passed the House last week would have forgiven two “calamity” days outright for all involved and required teachers, not students, to return to the classroom for in-service days for two more to count toward the minimum school year.

“There still remain some substantial differences between the two versions,” said Rep. Gerald Stebleton (R., Lancaster), chairman of the House Education Committee. “There’s a lot of confusion about how this [Senate version] works.”

State law allows school districts to write off up to five “calamity” days lost to weather and other emergencies. The vast majority of Ohio school districts are already beyond that.

“The Senate version of the bill provided for more instructional time for school districts. We thought that was important,” Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said. “But we also balanced that with some additional flexibility for schools to manage their calendars in this unusual winter.

“The second thing we thought was important in the Senate was to try to resolve the calamity day issue this week because the sooner that we resolve the issue at the Statehouse, the sooner the school districts can implement their calendars at the local level.”

The conference committee would consist of three members each from chamber with majority Republicans, who control both chambers, holding four of the six seats.

House Bill 416, sponsored by Reps. Tony Burkley (R., Payne) and Brian Hill (R., Zanesville), includes Mr. Gardner’s proposal to not require seniors to continue to attend classes after their graduation ceremonies are held.

The Ottawa Hills School District, which is small and does not bus students, has closed just four days this winter, so such legislation is unlikely to mean much to it. Staying open when other schools close is part of the district’s culture, Superintendent Kevin Miller said.

“We value that,” he said. “We appreciate that.”

While the Perrysburg district has missed more days, it also may not benefit much from any final legislation. That’s because the district has missed 10 days, right on the proposed cut-off line.

That’s fine with Superintendent Tom Hosler, who said the district has pretty much accepted that students and staff will have to make up five days at the end of the year.

“It’s difficult to come up with one plan that is going to fit everybody very well,” he said.

Some districts have already announced plans to mitigate their excessive calamity days. Toledo Public Schools has turned four half days into full days to make up some time, and it hopes to get permission from the state to add half-hour increments to the end of some days, Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault said.

The district also plans to give students “blizzard bags” during spring break, with students having two weeks to complete the equivalent of three days worth of school work.

With 12 days missed, Mr. Gault said those actions should cover TPS, as long as the state allows those converted half days to count as “contingency days.”


By Jim Provance and Nolan Rosenkrans - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

Visit The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) at www.toledoblade.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Below is the Columbus Dispatch's story about this issue:

Calamity days remain up in air in legislature

Ohio school districts will have to wait at least two more weeks to learn how many snow days they need to make up, thanks to a contentious debate that surprised Republican leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly.

After meetings among GOP legislative leaders failed to reach a compromise, the Senate yesterday gave unanimous approval to its version of a calamity-days bill, one that would require districts to use four contingency days before getting forgiveness for other days missed.

But House Republicans refused to go along with that bill, although their top two leaders joined Democrats in voting for it. “There was a bigger split than I thought,” said Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina.

The Senate bill says schools that have gone beyond their five allotted calamity days — and nearly every district has — must first use four of their five contingency days. Those are days that districts scheduled in case they had to close for more than five days.

After that, districts would get an additional four calamity days that do not have to be made up, but one of those must be a professional training day for teachers.

“It didn’t seem to make sense to have them build (contingency days) into their calendar and say this is how they are going to handle additional days, and then basically turn around and say ‘ Nevermind, here’s a free day,’” said Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.

The House bill did not require that any contingency days be used. It gave districts four additional calamity days and required that districts use two for teacher training.

Batchelder said he has members insisting that teachers work two days of professional training. In Franklin County, Republican Reps. Mike Duffey of Worthington, Stephanie Kunze of Hilliard and Cheryl Grossman of Grove City voted to reject the Senate bill, while Rep. Anne Gonzales of Westerville supported it.

“I thought our proposal was reasoned and balanced,” said Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina.

The Senate bill also would allow districts to extend their school days by 30-minute increments to make up days missed, or use take-home “blizzard bags” to cover three missed days.

As of Feb. 7, districts had missed an average of nine days because of cold and snow, according to a survey by the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

The calamity-days issue also has highlighted what will happen next year when Ohio changes from a calendar based on a minimum number of days to a minimum number of hours. There will be no more calamity days, and schools will be able to take as many snow days as they like without making them up as long as they meet the minimum hours.

For many districts, that means they will be able to close for several days more than the current five calamity days without needing to make them up.

“The calamity-days issue has drawn attention to the fact that the minimum hours we’ve established next year for many schools is substantially below what they are currently doing,” Lehner said. She said the law is set at a 5.5-hour day, while most schools are at 6.5 hours.

Schools are not permitted to schedule fewer days in session than they have this year, but the law doesn’t address how many days they can cancel classes because of weather or other problems.

Lehner wants to address that but admits it might not be as easy as increasing the minimum number of hours.

“There’s always unintended consequences, and we may find we’re running into (labor) contracts that have already been drafted and all sorts of issues,” she said.


By Jim Siegel - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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