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Votes

School Year Remains Same, Not Shorter

A few students and teachers would like two more days of summer vacation, while a few School Board members want them to remain in the classroom.

“I don’t support the idea,” said Superintendent Edgar Hatrick. “It sends the wrong message that two days don’t matter.”

The school year will end June 14 as originally scheduled, the School Board decided April 23 with a 3-5 vote against cutting any days from the district’s calendar. At the April 2 meeting, Patrick Chorpenning (Mercer) suggested shortening the school year as a way to show appreciation for teachers.

“It became bigger than I intended,” Chorpenning said. “I created somewhat of a firestorm just wanting to have a discussion on this. [But] at least we had the discussion.”

Staff prepared a discussion list Hatrick presented at the April 23 board meeting. Hatrick said little or no cost savings would result from the change, since several employees are guaranteed 185 days of salary for the originally planned length of the school year. The district uses a fixed calendar with five extra days beyond the state’s 180-day requirement. The extra days cover time missed for school closings due to inclement weather or emergency situations, allowing the calendar to remain fixed. Calendars with two to three extra days are required to cover the additional days that are missed.

“Parents believe that we have committed our fixed calendar schedule to them for planning purposes for this year,” Hatrick said.

ACCORDING TO THE LIST, graduation dates are set and cannot be changed to match the calendar change. In addition, summer care providers and Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services use the fixed calendar to plan the starting date for activities, Hatrick said.

“How many parents with young children would be in a lurch because of those two days,” John Andrews (Broad Run) asked.

Three speakers gave their comments about changing the calendar, including

Taylor Rust, a student at Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville. He said cutting the school year will not have “a dramatic effect on instruction, but it will on morale.”

Another speaker Kathy Lague said, “Since the snow days were not needed, why keep them?”

Geary Higgins (Catoctin) agreed, saying the district should give back the extra days if they are not needed. However, the requests to shorten the school year came from a small number of teachers at four schools, Hatrick said.

Warren Geurin (Sterling) disagreed. “There are students and teachers who would like us to do this,” he said.

THE SCHOOL BOARD considered whether to take action at last week’s meeting or to wait until May 14, giving residents a chance to comment. The board voted 3-5 against waiting.

“Teachers work hard and deserve a lot of credit for what they do,” said Harry Holsinger (Blue Ridge). “We need to provide a good salary and along with that comes professionalism. The idea of awarding teachers with a couple days off runs counter to the idea that teachers are professionals.”

As for students, Holsinger said, “By doing this, we’re taking something away from students. … Why not give them 180 days back and call it quits.” Holsinger said if the district wants to save money, it could start dropping programs. “If we want to go back to minimum state requirements, there’s lots we could drop. I don’t think that’s the direction we want to go in.”

Geurin, Higgins and Chorpenning voted in favor of shortening the school year. Frederick Fleming (Leesburg) was absent from the vote.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, legal counsel will review the policy for individual school closures, as approved by the Legislative and Policy Committee, Patrick Chorpenning (Mercer) said.

Current policy gives the superintendent authority to close schools, requiring a year’s time between the superintendent’s recommendation and the actual school closing.

“There’s nothing in the language about the School Board and School Board members,” Chorpenning said. “I was looking at a couple of tough but not insurmountable procedures to close schools.”

The committee suggested several procedures, including requiring a school study with meetings and public hearings and a certain voting percentage.

“We all felt it’s probably not an appropriate process for one school board member to recommend closing schools. This insulates school closings from school officials to a certain extent,” Chorpenning said. “It forces school board members to create water-tight arguments.”

Chorpenning expects a response from the School District’s lawyer by May 28.