The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 17, 2014

Educators say bill mandating calendar, summer attendance reduces local control

Several Southwest Missouri superintendents say they’re not on board with a proposal in the Missouri Legislature that would ensure schools don’t start classes until September and that they end before June.

Under the legislation, school districts would need to complete their regular term between Sept. 1 and May 31, while the state’s minimum class time would increase from 1,044 hours to 1,085 hours. It would leave August for professional development and training.

The bill, which was referred in early January to a House committee on elementary and secondary education but has not yet gone through a hearing, also would require that districts make summer school attendance mandatory for students who score less than proficient on statewide tests.

Rep. Steve Cookson, chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said summer school would help reach students who are starting to fall behind, and that less variance in school calendars makes sense as families move between communities.

“When we talk about students and their needs and living in a mobile society, that’s a benefit to have as uniform as possible within parameters — not dictate to them but have it within parameters,” said Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff.

School officials contend that the legislation is too rigid, usurping local authority to determine when schools are in session.

Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff said districts need local control in setting a calendar, noting that different parts of the state have varying needs. For example, Branson schools started the current school year on Aug. 26, more than a week after Joplin schools, but also had a shorter Christmas break.

“Branson’s calendar has to look different from Joplin’s calendar simply because of the entertainment industry and the economics of that community,” Huff said.

Webb City Superintendent Tony Rossetti said he thinks it is a district’s responsibility to recommend summer school for students based on what’s best for them educationally — not because it would be mandated by law.

“I don’t think it’s the position of Jefferson City to be telling us who in our system needs to be attending summer school,” he said.

Phil Cook, superintendent of Carl Junction schools, said he thinks summer school is good for many students, but mandating who should attend isn’t necessarily a good idea.

“To mandate that our students go to summer school based on a snapshot test ... I don’t know that I like that,” he said. “But if it were based on multiple measures of assessment (and) teacher recommendation, I could support something like that. We try to do that anyway.”

Missouri School Boards’ Association spokesman Brent Ghan said local officials should have the flexibility to schedule vacation times and teacher professional development days that suit their areas.

“One size does not fit all when it comes to the school calendar across our state,” he said.

Others say that standardizing the state’s school calendar would level the playing field for children. The Branson Chamber of Commerce has not specifically endorsed Cookson’s bill, said its president and CEO, Ross Summers, but it has supported the representative in the bill’s drafting and introduction.

In a telephone interview with the Globe, Summers said the bill, by mandating calendar dates, would also standardize testing dates across the state. The bill would perhaps allow districts to reduce some costs of operation, such as air-conditioning costs for those that begin their terms in the middle of August, and would allow families to travel and students to work during the summer months, he said.

“From a purely economic standpoint, I believe there is a real basis for the proposed law, but beyond that, we believe that a standardized start date, post-Sept. 1, would be beneficial to everyone in Missouri,” Summers said.

The school boards association said there is merit to the idea of increasing time spent in school and to summer school, but that neither initiative would be free. Missouri’s funding formula that is used to distribute basic aid to school districts is about $600 million underfunded in the current year’s state operating budget.

“First things first here,” Ghan said. “We need to be fully funding the foundation formula before we start increasing the costs for local school districts.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.

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