Craven County Schools could get a calendar waiver from the legislature by its self-imposed March 15 deadline under a local bill recently introduced by N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.
If granted, the waiver would allow the school system to put all of its schools — traditional, year-round and Early College — on a single modified calendar for the 2013-14 school year.
The school board has said if lawmakers don’t act on its request by March 15, the Craven system would wait a year to try again.
Speciale, with Rep. George Graham, D-Lenoir, and Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, as co-sponsors, filed the bill on Valentine’s Day.
Speciale said the bill satisfies both the Craven County Board of Education’s request and his personal conviction that “the government closest to the people is the one that governs best.”
Speciale said that Craven County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills visited him about the proposal to put the school system on one modified calendar, which would have classes starting for all public schools on Aug. 5 and dismissing on May 23.
“It’s not about whether I agree with what the school board is doing, but that I agree the school board is the one that should be setting the schedule,” Speciale said. “If the people don’t agree with the decision, that’s who they should get a hold of. I don’t believe the state should ever have been in scheduling to begin with.”
The school board voted last November to request a waiver from the state-imposed calendar requirement that traditional schools begin no earlier than Aug. 25 and dismiss no later than June 10.
“We want to consolidate our year-round, Early College and traditional school year calendars and use just one,” said Linda Thomas, Craven school board vice chairman. “The Early College calendar is sort of a compromise and really the best of all worlds. It is a modified calendar that works in conjunction and corresponds to community college and traditional college schedules. We feel like at the present time it is best to get the whole county on one calendar.”
Thomas also said that when the year-round calendar was implemented years ago, “it was to accommodate remediation and enrichment and we no longer have the funding to support that, so it’s not working for us now, and families have to deal with as many as three different schedules.”
“Unless you have a waiver, you have to go under the state calendar,” she said.
There already is precedent for calendar waivers: Many mountain school systems get them because of weather.
“There will be others who tag onto this bill,” Speciale said. “There are already 16 sponsors and there will be others.”
But he said the school board “should have their dancing shoes on because they’ll have to answer some questions. I was getting emails before I knew what was going on.”
Even if the bill passes in the House, a similar bill would have to be introduced and passed in the Senate. Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said he may introduce a school calendar waiver bill in the Senate, but only if he thinks it will pass.
“That was a very contentious issue when they put it in initially, from what I understand, and there is not a lot of excitement about having to go through that again,” Sanderson said of the school calendar issue.
“If we do go in that direction, I don’t think the bill will be as open ended as the House bill,” Sanderson said. “It will only ask for a waiver to do the Early College dates and get exams before Christmas.”
Speciale said one problem that could arise from a change is that “teachers going for year-round will end up going a month without a paycheck under the proposed schedule. I think they are going to discuss that at the next board meeting.”
The Craven Board of Education is scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday for its work session, and Thomas said discussion is expected on the waiver and any related problems it could generate.
She said the system’s assistant superintendent for finance “is working on that for us to come up with a solution in the best interest of our year-round teachers.”
Craven County Schools operated under a calendar similar to the one now proposed for 2013-14 until the General Assembly passed legislation in 2004 to take school calendar choices away from local boards. The decision followed a “Save Our Summers” campaign by parents’ groups and the state’s travel and tourism industry.