LIMA — Sandwiched in the pages of the state’s biennial budget bill passed in June, a provision requires school districts to shift their calendars from the traditional 180 days to a minimum number of hours.
A state legislator says this is an attempt to increase the amount of time teachers are in front of their pupils and to give school district officials more flexibility with their school schedule on a weekly or monthly basis.
State Reps. Bill Davis, R-Dayton, and Rep. Bill Patmon, D-Cleveland, proposed a bill twice in the General Assembly to convert the 180-day school calendar to a minimum number of hours. The budget provision requires school shift to 1,001 hours for seventh through 12th grade, 910 hours for full-day kindergarten through sixth grade and 455 hours for half-day kindergartners.
“The intent of the bill is if you are a 1,200-hour school and you want to build your time off in then you extend your day a little bit and build more hours in so when you take your time off then you are still above your minimum hours,” Davis said. “The intent is to make sure the kids are in school at least whatever the school district minimum was.
“The idea is to have the students in front of the teacher,” the state legislator said. “I really think once the schools sit down and look at this and figure what they can do with it then they will really like it.”
Davis and Patmon introduced the legislation into the House again last spring, but their actions became moot in June when Gov. John Kasich included a provision in the state budget bill based on their proposals.
Along with having to at least meet the minimum number of hours, school administrators cannot reduce the number of hours they are in school when they shift into the new system. For example, if students at a junior high or high school are in class for 1,066 hours during the 2013-14 school year then they must receive the same number of hours of instruction under the new system.
The only way to reduce the number of hours is if school officials hold a public hearing and the school board approves the reduction in hours. Hayes said “parents are not going to allow that to happen.”
In west-central Ohio, the legislative change should have no effect on most area districts’ school calendars because the majority of district administrators want their staffs to be teaching their pupils as much as possible, Putnam County Educational Service Center Superintendent Dr. Jan Osborn said.
“I think our schools historically have always had longer days than the minimum legal requirement so we like the minimum hour requirement to some degree,” Osborn said, referring to the administrators at nine school districts in Putnam County but also echoing the sentiment of superintendents in Allen and surrounding counties. “Speaking for myself, I think the problem will be in regard to factoring in the calamity days. Traditionally we have had five and under the new system some districts may have hours equal to 22 days and do we want to have 22 days of calamity days, I think people will say, ‘No.’
“We really want to have as much contact with our students as possible,” he added. “I think you will probably see districts build a few calamity days into their calendar so they can have the students receive the same amount of days as under the old system and so they get as much educational opportunity as possible.”
After talking about the subject with many area superintendents, Lima City Schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman said they are all well above the minimum number of hours and none of them have any intention of reducing the number of hours of instruction.
“I think the hour piece gives us a little more flexibility,” Ackerman said. “The only problem I can see is we are going to have to keep track every time we have a cancellation, a one-hour delay, a two-hour delay and we release early every Wednesday and that will count, too, but we will be OK.”
While calamity days are eliminated under the new system, Ackerman agreed with Osborn that area superintendents would likely make up those days even if they still were above the state minimum because they want the teachers to teach and the students to learn.
“Understandably, we could utilize a few calamity days but if it became excessive then it would our intention to make those hours up regardless,” Ackerman said. “Our kids need to be in the classroom. They need to be receiving instruction. This would never be about reducing the number of days or reducing the number of hours.”
Ohio Department of Education Associate Director of Communications John Charlton said the majority of districts in the state should not have a problem with the conversion.
“The whole idea is to provide flexibility to schools,” Charlton said. “While they are still required to meet five days a week, they could have three longer days and two shorter days. It also could allow schools the flexibility for the older students to take college courses, to be involved in a work program or something like that during the day. There are just a lot of options for schools.”
He said the law requires school districts to maintain the typical five-day school week to prohibit schools from shifting their calendar to four days and then eliminating one day of class so the district could reduce busing costs.
The Waynesfield-Goshen Local Board of Education has scheduled a public hearing on the 2014-15 school calendar based on hours at 7 p.m. Monday.
“I really like this hours minimum calendar because this year we have already met our five calamity days, and we have done better than some other districts, but this calendar would give us a lot of flexibility in making them up,” Superintendent Chris Pfister said. “While there are no calamity days under the new system, we would be way over the minimum number of hours, but I think we would make those hours up anyway because of student learning and preparation for state assessments and other mandated tests.”
Pfister said he would bring up changes of hours within a calendar year to his board members for discussion only because it could help eliminate one- and two-hour delays during the winter, but he would not favor any change this year.
Pfister said Waynesfield-Goshen Schools intend to have all its grade levels exceed the 1,001-hour minimum, with pupils in class 1,096 hours excluding in-services and early dismissal days.
“We could have reduced the days, but we do not want any fewer hours of instruction,” he said. “They need the time in the classroom and it is only going to get tougher with the new standards and ratcheting things up.”