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Votes

Board Seeks to Cut Snow Days

Students and teachers are in school five days too many as long as the weather holds, according to a few School Board members.

The district’s fixed calendar includes five snow days that a few School Board members would like to return to students and teachers, as long as the days are unused by April 1. At the Sept. 10 board meeting, staff presented the proposed calendar for the 2003-04 school year, which begins Aug. 25 and ends on June 16 for a total of 185 days on the school calendar with 198 teacher contract days. The state requires schools to make up missed days beyond the 180-day requirement if the calendar does not include extra days.

“Why wouldn’t we give them back if we don’t have any snow?” asked Geary Higgins (Catoctin), chairman of the Personnel Committee.

The Personnel Committee, along with the Legislative and Policy Committee, developed a modified policy allowing unused snow days to be cut from the end of the school year while retaining the same graduation dates. The two committees, as long as members vote in the majority, plan to present the modification at the Oct. 8 meeting when the School Board is scheduled to adopt the calendar.

“Before we adopt this, there will be considerable debate,” said Warren Geurin (Sterling), who supported cutting the unused snow days. “We haven’t had any bad weather for five to six years. … If you haven’t had bad weather, and all the instruction is over with, there’s no just reason to keep everyone hanging on.”

BY THE LAST week of school, testing is completed and most of the seniors are finished with course work and waiting to graduate, Geurin said. “There is a sense among some of us, the last week is given over to picnics and games and movies and stuff like that,” he said. “The argument we’re going to lose instructional days doesn’t hold much water.”

Higgins said cutting the five days from the calendar still leaves 19.34 days beyond the state requirement. The state sets the school day to a minimum of 5.5 hours, while the school day for the Loudoun County Public Schools is 25 minutes longer for elementary schools and 44 minutes longer for middle and high schools.

Harry Holsinger (Blue Ridge), who did not return phone calls by press time, argued that the amount of instruction time should be above the state minimum, Higgins said.

“If I had my druthers, I would extend the school year for more instructional time rather than shortening it. But having said that, I’m interested in hearing the debate on the School Board,” said Patrick Chorpenning (Mercer). Two years ago, Chorpenning proposed a 12-month school calendar and paying teachers who wanted to work the full year on a pro-rated salary, but did not get the School Board’s support. “There’s benefits to … going to school a longer time,” he said.

“Why make the employees work five days longer? Why stretch out the year longer?” asked School Board member John Andrews (Broad Run). “At this point, it’s common sense to me. If we don’t use the days, we don’t use the days.”

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

* The enrollment on Sept. 9 was within .47 percent of last year’s projected enrollment for Sept. 30, according to the 10-day report given by Sam Adamo, director of planning and legislative services. The district counted 37,201 students, compared to the 37,375-student projection. Adamo anticipates the student count to be at or above projections by Sept. 30, he said.

“To come this close is outstanding” given the unfavorable economy, said Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles).

* A semester-long photography course will be proposed for the art education program of studies, as presented in an information item the School Board will consider at the Sept. 24 meeting. The course, which will cover the basics of black-and-white photography, is a pilot program that eventually will be offered at high schools for students who completed Art I.

“Photography is part of some of our art courses, but we don’t have any freestanding photography courses,” said Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent of instruction.