A longer summer break

A longer summer break

August 18th, 2009 by Ben Benton in News

CHATSWORTH, Ga. -- When Sept. 8 rolls around and the school bell rings in Murray County, the students will look back on 2009 as the longest summer ever.

On Friday, while children his age in other Georgia counties had already been in school for a week or more, 11-year Daniel Bennett was hanging out at the pool.

"They're probably pretty jealous," Daniel said with a sly smile.

Murray County students gained an extra month of vacation thanks to a 160-day calendar adopted by the school system over the summer. Officials say Murray schools haven't had a September start date since the 1970s.

Murray County Schools spokesman Dean Donehoo said the county will save about $125,000 in fuel and utilities by fitting state-required classroom hours into 20 fewer days. School days this year will be from 20 minutes to an hour longer, depending on grade level, he said.

"One thing I don't like about it is we have to go an hour longer, but it's worth it," said Jonathan Bennett, 9, who was with his brother at Morrison's pool north of Chatsworth.

Local and state cuts forced Murray schools to trim the annual budget from $60 million to $55 million, Mr. Donehoo said. Since the budget was adopted, the state has cut $1.7 million more, he said.

NEW HOURS FOR 2009-10

7:30 a.m.: All schools begin classes

3:05 p.m.: Gladden Middle and high schools dismiss

3:20 p.m.: Bagley Middle School dismisses

3:30 p.m.: Elementary schools dismiss

BUDGET BOUNCE

2008-09: $60 million

2009-10: $55 million

Estimated savings from 160-day calendar: Minimum $70,000 in fuel, $50,000 in utilities

The cost-cutting calendar change was approved by 93 percent of people polled by the school system over the summer, he said. The new schedule still exceeds high school instructional time requirements by 8,600 minutes and elementary school requirements by 13,000, he said.

Meanwhile, 2009 will go down as one of the longest summers in Murray County's recent history.

"This is the kind of summer I remember when I was going to school," pool owner Larry Morrison said.

He thinks the new calendar is good idea, although he acknowledges a bit of self-interest.

"I have a vested interest in the kids staying out a little longer," the pool owner said, "but as a taxpayer, I think it makes better sense."

The children also get more from a shorter, more "intense" instructional schedule, he said.

Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said the Georgia Legislature this year voted to allow school systems to schedule school for "180 days or the equivalent."

"They can make the days longer or make the year longer; as long as they meet the 180 days or its equivalent, they can do how they wish," he said. "At the end of the day, they go to school the same amount of time."

Another Georgia county also shifted its schedule to reduce costs. Peach County officials adopted a four-day school week, closing schools on Mondays and lengthening the school day, according to the system's Web site.

Meanwhile, students in Murray County are content to bide their time until after Labor Day.

Summer Winstead and Kelsey Brock, both 15, work at Morrison's pool snack bar when they're not taking a dip.

"I'm ready to go back, but it's nice to have an extra-long summer," Summer said.

A year ago at this time, she and Kelsey would have been "in second period listening to teachers babble about something I have no interest in whatsoever," Summer laughed.

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson Matthew Waller, 9, flips into Morrison's Pool in in Chattsworth Ga., Friday afternoon. Matthew attends Chattsworth elementary school in Murray Co., which is having its longest summer ever.

Kelsey said even just sitting around being bored is better than being stuck in class.

Cousins Erica Chambers and Matthew Waller, both 9, said they've enjoyed their extended summer.

Erica said she "can't wait until school starts."

Matthew answered the do-you-miss-school? question with a decisive, "Nope."

The delay really benefits his family because "they get to see me more," he said.

Montana and Marley Carrell, 6 and 4, respectively, seemed anxious about the first day of school as they stood dripping at the edge of the pool.

Marley shyly acknowledged that she was "OK" with her first day of prekindergarten being delayed, but Montana said she's ready.

"I've been working on my school stuff," Montana said. "I've been practicing words and I've been spelling."