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School calendar debate continues

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By Samuel Speciale

Charleston Daily Mail

A proposed school calendar with an early start date had the support of several stakeholder groups who spoke Thursday at the Kanawha County Board of Education meeting.

The calendar, which would have students in school from Aug. 10 to May 24, is nearly identical to the one Kanawha County is using this year. It also allocates one week for Thanksgiving and spring breaks and two full weeks for winter break.

A second calendar starts later on Aug. 17 and would have students in school until May 27. Due to the calendar’s shorter span of instructional days, winter break would be shortened from 10 days to seven.

Board members haven’t agreed on which calendar they want to use and have debated whether current start dates are too early.

While several people in attendance said they favored an early start date, Capital High teacher Cynthia Phillips said coming back to school sooner has “worn us teachers out.” She also said the board should let teachers have more input by letting them vote on which calendar they want. Another teacher proposed her own calendar, which includes a later start date that allows teacher more preparation time leading up to the first day of school.

When asked which calendar the teachers’ unions favor, Dinah Adkins, president of the county affiliate of the West Virginia Education Association, said she will support what the teachers want.

The board will have a third reading on the calendar at its Feb. 2 meeting, and is expected to pick a calendar on Feb. 19.

Rector said she hopes more parents and teachers will attend the meetings and voice their opinions.

“We want to wait and hear what you have to say,” she said. “We need to set a higher standard.”

Calendars weren’t the only controversial subject discussed Thursday. County representatives of WVEA and the American Federation of Teachers packed the board room to voice their frustration with the lack of raises.

Fred Albert, county president for AFT, said its been more than five years since Kanawha County issued a raise for its teachers and service personnel.

“We want the best and most talented teachers, but you can’t if you don’t offer competitive salaries,” Albert said. “Kanawha County is the largest county in the state. We should be at the top in teacher pay.”

The discussion of pay raises prompted board member Pete Thaw, who has not attended a meeting in person since June, to interrupt the delegation period, which he said did not break any rules. Thaw has been participating by phone. He told attendants to come and speak during the board’s budget hearings in March.

Rector said members of the public can speak at any meeting though.

Teacher unions have lobbied the board for months and were successful in getting members to sign a petition to have statewide teacher salaries raised.

While both county and state budgets have been slashed, Adkins said she is confident a local pay raise for teachers and service personnel will go through. However, board officials have long contended the county’s large, but tight $235 million budget has few funds to spare.