Tallmadge Board of Education considers school calendar based on hours, not days

state law change mandates switch that would provide more flexibility

by Holly Schoenstein | reporter Published:

Tallmadge -- The Tallmadge Board of Education is considering a proposed calendar for the 2014-15 school year that's based on hours instead of school days.

The Board had a public hearing on the calendar during its meeting Jan. 15. The matter will go before the Board for possible adoption during its next meeting at 6 p.m., Feb. 19, at Tallmadge High School.

According to Superintendent Jeff Ferguson, the state's biennial budget that was passed last year included House Bill 59, a change in law that mandates as of next school year calendars are to be based on hours. School districts with half-day kindergarten must have at least 455 hours for kindergarten through sixth grade, or at least 910 hours for those with all-day kindergarten, including Tallmadge as it doesn't offer half-day kindergarten. For grades seven to 12, all school districts are required to have at least 1,001 hours. For both the state minimum and Tallmadge's calendars, in-service, conference and other school district support days are included.

The calendar before the Board exceeds the required minimums with 1,080 hours for Dunbar Primary and Munroe Elementary schools and 1,170 hours for the middle school and high school. School districts are permitted to count some of the time when students are in school in their number of hours, but other times are excluded. For example, scheduled classes, approved educational options and supervised activities, including recess, are eligible but lunch at elementary schools isn't.

Ferguson said the number of hours in the proposed school calender is equivalent to the number of days in this school year's calendar. Tallmadge Schools has 182 instructional days this school year, and state requires a minimum of 177.

"What I have heard is this will give districts more flexibility moving forward into future calendars," Ferguson said about the change. He added that part of the reasoning is to allow for adjustments to schedules because of inclement weather.

For school districts that approve calendars on a multi-year basis -- two and three years at a time -- the change will be effective when their current collective bargaining agreements expire, he said. This doesn't apply to Tallmadge as the school district approves calendars one school year at a time.

Ferguson said whether school districts could save money by switching to hours-based calendars is unknown.

"It's almost too new of a concept. There could be the potential for cost savings," he said.

He called this a fairer standard by which school districts can base their calendars because districts that schedule more than the minimum number of hours would have the surplus of hours between the minimum and the scheduled to use if needed. The law at this time doesn't allow school districts to have any calamity days that exceed five, even if they have more days scheduled in their calendars than the minimum.

"I think change is hard for people," he said. "This school requirement has been in effect for I don't know how many years, ever since I've been in education."

He said the days-based calendar dates to when Ohio was an agrarian state, when school years were scheduled around tending to farms. Now that society has changed, a calendar that's flexible makes sense.

"I think the bottom line for me is, we've lost sight of just how important it is for our kids to be here …," Ferguson said, explaining that when the school year is cut short because of calamity days, students are the ones who are missing out on instruction. "I do think it's crucial that we do whatever we can to get every hour of instruction we can in, so if this converting to hours gives us flexibility to make sure they're not missing, I'm all for it."

Calamity days

The extreme winter weather this year has prompted Tallmadge Schools to use four calamity days and two-hour delays on a couple of occasions, mostly because of frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall.

Ohio law allows school districts to use five full calamity days per school year without making them up at the end of the year or during breaks, as long as their calendars have a minimum of 177 instructional days. School districts that don't meet the minimum number of days in their calendar are required to make up any days missed.

Gov. John Kasich is trying to change the law on a temporary basis to allow school districts four additional calamity days for this school year. The proposal is expected to go before the House on Feb. 12 and will then go to the Senate.

Although he understands why some school districts might need the additional calamity days and the financial burden making up missed days has on their budgets, Ferguson said he's concerned about how four more calamity days would reduce the amount of instruction students in Tallmadge would receive.

"I don't want to jinx it, but I'm hoping we put some of the worst [weather] behind us," he said. That way Tallmadge won't need to institute any more calamity days.

Ferguson said he believes school districts in this area don't need more than five calamity days every school year because in the past eight years he's been superintendent in Tallmadge the school district hasn't needed more than that.

Moving forward with the hours-based calendars, school districts that meet the minimum number of hours would be allowed to take as many calamity hours as individual calendars allow. For example, the proposed calendar for Tallmadge's middle and high schools exceeds the state minimum by 169 hours so as long as the school district doesn't use more than that, calamity hours used won't need to be made up, Ferguson said.

Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or hschoenstein@recordpub.com

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