Enquirer Herald

York County school leaders to push for local control of start dates

Officials from York County’s four school districts are coming together to fight for more control over their calendars.

During a quarterly meeting Tuesday at Clover High School, superintendents, administrators and school board members from the districts shared frustrations and ideas. They agreed to rally support and take it to lawmakers.

“This is a school board issue,” Clover schools Superintendent Marc Sosne said. “This is local control, which is what school boards are elected to do.”

A 2007 state law bars districts from starting school before the third Monday in August.

Educators say that limits options, particularly when so many other days must be accounted for, such as holiday breaks and mandated testing.

Some years it’s problematic.

“One year, students had spring break the week before HSAP (exit exam) testing,” Rock Hill schools Associate Superintendent Harriet Jaworowski said. Scores dropped that year, she said.

“The major headache has been we can’t end first semester before winter holiday.”

That could be solved if school boards could approve calendars that best fit their communities, officials said.

The discussion comes as Fort Mill school leaders are pushing to change the law to allow school to start on the second Monday in August.

School board members and district leaders convinced local lawmakers to propose bills in the House and Senate that would move the possible start date back a week.

The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, was heard in committee but isn’t expected to face a vote during this legislative session.

A companion bill in the House, introduced by Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, will be heard by the House education committee today.

Fort Mill’s move followed frustrations in planning next school year’s calendar.

Aug. 20 – the third Monday – is the latest start date since the law was created.

That made it tough to craft a calendar that ended the school year before June and also included traditional school holidays and teacher workdays.

It also made it nearly impossible to end the first semester for high school students before Christmas break, which Fort Mill officials said parents and teachers have requested.

An earlier start date could give students more time learning before annual standardized tests are given, Fort Mill school board Chairman Patrick White said. Test dates are set by the state and aren’t flexible.

Officials on Tuesday looked at possible alternative calendars that could be allowed under the law, but agreed to reach out to colleagues across the state.

Rock Hill school board member Ann Reid plans to ask the S.C. School Board Association to poll members to gauge how others feel about pushing for “local control.”

The third-Monday law came after proponents of coastal tourism lobbied lawmakers to keep school from starting too early so summer employees could fill positions during peak season, officials said.

“It should be about the business of education, not the business on the coast,” Rock Hill school board member Walter Brown said.

A hurdle for local control proponents, officials said, is rigid state testing. There isn’t money, or will to create separate tests for districts that might administer the exams on separate dates due to differences in their calendars.

But that could change in the next two years when the state is expected to adopt a new, potentially computerized test.

The Fort Mill Times contributed