School year bill irks local board

School year bill irks local board

May 18th, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

NASHVILLE - Requiring schools to start later in August will please parents, save local education systems money and also benefit tourism, according to Hamilton County lawmakers.

Those lawmakers support a bill that would phase in a delay of the beginning of the school year.

"I think parents like it," said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. "What they want to do is back it up to where schools start later."

But several county school board members question the move, saying it represents yet another intrusion by the state General Assembly into local government affairs and also could disrupt student testing.

"The legislature should leave the starting time for schools up to the local district," Hamilton County school board Chairman Everett Fairchild said. "I think this ought to be a local decision and the legislature ought to stay out of it."

At issue is a bill that incrementally would move back the start of the public school year to no earlier than the fourth Monday in August by the 2014-15 school year.

The House approved the bill Monday in a 71-23 vote with lawmakers exempting 25 of the state's 136 school districts from its provisions. Senators passed the bill last week on a 24-5 vote with no exemptions.

Both chambers now will seek to work out the differences if the bill is to become law. Both versions begin phasing in later start dates in the 2012-13 school year and this coming fall's start dates would not be affected.

"I have always been a proponent of the later start date," said Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, who voted for the bill. "No. 1, it [standardizes] things. No. 2, the point was made yesterday that our second largest business in the state is tourism. In Hamilton County, tourism was No. 1 for years and years."

The argument is that the change will encourage families to travel more and also make it easier for businesses to employ out-of-school students closer to Labor Day. Proponents say such work not only puts money in students' pockets but teaches them lessons about responsibility and punctuality.

"It'll save the school system quite a bit of money just in cooling," said Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge. "If we back the school start date up to the last of August that's nearly a month they're not going to have to be cooling those schools."

Lawmakers said they did not hear from local school board members.

But school board members, who said they were unaware of the legislation, are speaking out now.

Like Fairchild, board member Chip Baker also voiced concern about legislative intrusion on local school governance.

"Personally, I'd like it to be a local process and not a state-mandated process," he said.

School board member Linda Mosley is chairwoman of the state's Coalition of Large School Systems, which represents the five largest school systems in Tennessee. She said the group only became aware of the legislation when it passed the Senate last Thursday.

Mosley and Baker both voiced concerns about the bill's impact on testing.

According to Mosley, it has been proven that if children spend time away from school on winter or spring break, "they would not have a chance to get back up to speed on testing mode" unless given sufficient time.

The state can probably change timing on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, which tests students in grades three through eighth each spring, to accommodate that, Mosley said. But Tennessee has no control over test dates for the nationally administered ACT, she said.

Since 2007, Tennessee has required juniors to take the ACT or SAT.

In other action on Tuesday:

Gov. Bill Haslam said he does not support legislation that would require Amazon to collect Tennessee sales taxes because it is locating two distribution warehouses in Chattanooga and Bradley County.

Repeating previous statements, Haslam was quoted by The Associated Press that he told then-Gov. Phil Bredesen that he would "go along" with the state's agreement not to try and collect the tax.

Asked if were actively trying to discourage efforts by some top Republican legislative leaders to compel Amazon to collect state sales taxes, Haslam said, "I am, and we're on the record as telling Amazon that we were OK with the deal."