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School calendar change may save jobs

An unforeseen amendment has added more momentum to the bill that has been dubbed the Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012.

The bill, known as HB 360 in its house form, passed 62-30 last week before making its way to the Tourism and Marketing Committee of the state senate. While in committee, the bill picked up an amendment from Sen. Bobby Singleton (D – Greensboro). That amendment will guarantee that the divisors will not be raised by as much as was initially anticipated, resulting in more teaching units for schools across the state.

A bill surfaced within the senate Wednesday (SB 318), which would have called for a divisor raise of .4 percent, which would have resulted in the loss of 3.15 teaching units in Demopolis City Schools and a total decrease of 2.11 percent in the budget from the current fiscal year to FY 2013.

“If HB 360 becomes law, the divisors will raise by .25 percent instead of the .4 percent, which is what SB 318 calls for,” Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Al Griffin said.

The senate concession comes as the result of what the bill’s supporters believe will be a $22 million influx into the state’s education trust fund that will be stimulated by the decision to postpone the the start date for schools across Alabama to Aug. 20.

Proponents of the legislation are optimistic that the later fixed start date for schools will allow families to spend more time enjoying Alabama’s gulf region.

“Proponents claim that an extended summer directly translates to tourism dollars to prop up ailing General Fund and the ETF,” Director of Governmental Relations for the Alabama Association of School Boards Lissa Tucker said in an e-mail correspondence sent to state superintendents last week.

“The committee and bill proponents claim the extra two weeks of summer vacation will yield $22 million for the ETF from tax receipts from the Gulf. This number is based on a comparison to two weeks in June,” Griffin said. “If the $22 million is not fully generated based on the ETF analysis at the end of the first quarter of FY 2013 (Dec. 31, 2012), the new Rolling Reserve Act has a reserve of $300 million which will absorb the loss of any ETF receipts less than $22 million, and prevent any proration which might be caused in FY 2013 from a shortfall of the anticipated $22 million.”

The senate has essentially guaranteed that it will tap into reserves to accommodate for any shortfall should HB 360 result in less than the anticipated $22 million of economic stimulus. That guarantee has helped ease the minds of some superintendents across the state as the likelihood of having to cut additional educators is significantly reduced by the promise.

That fail safe created by the Rolling Reserve Act in addition to the amendment that will result in a lesser change in the divisors will likely be impactful in the preservation of teaching jobs.

“HB 360 is about saving teachers’ jobs according to the Tourism and Marketing Committee. The $22 million will lower divisors and the DCS loss will be approximately 1.91 teaching units (a 1.32 percent cut from the state K-12 Budget in comparison to FY 2012),” Griffin said. “As stated earlier, a divisor raise of .4 will result in 3.15 teaching units being lost from the Demopolis City Schools.”

However, HB 360 still figures to give administrators headaches in terms of planning an academic calendar that must contain 180 classroom days, seven professional development days, begin no earlier than Aug. 20 and end before Memorial Day.

Should the bill pass, Demopolis City Schools’ calendar committee will reconvene to look at its options. The majority of that group’s work figures to be predicated on a calendar drafted by Elmore County Schools in which students and teachers would get their holidays on Labor Day (Sept. 3), Veteran’s Day (Nov. 12) and Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21). Thanksgiving break would be shortened to include only Thanksgiving Day and the following day (Nov. 22 and 23) while Christmas holidays would be abbreviated to begin Dec. 24 and run through Jan. 2. Spring break and weather days would become a thing of the past. That calendar would result in no only the loss of spring break, but also see no built in days off from Jan. 22 through the end of school in late May.

“We might have a little wiggle room because this (Elmore County Schools) draft has teachers reporting back on Aug. 20. HB 360 says students are mandated to return by Aug. 20 and not before. This bill, if passed, will be effective immediately and through the 2014-2015 school year. At such time in 2015, the need for such a calendar will be re-evaluated by the Legislature,” Griffin said.

For Demopolis City Schools, HB 360 would likely result in two calendar options. One option would be similar to the proposed Elmore County Schools calendar but would see approximately five holidays built in over the course of the year such as an earlier start to Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. The second option would see the holiday schedule remain the same throughout the year, but install a Spring Break.

“At first glance, that is what we are looking at,” Griffin said.

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