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Kingsport BOE opposes state-mandated starting date

November 3rd, 2011 11:47 pm by Rick Wagner

KINGSPORT — Kingsport school leaders have gone on record opposing taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, Tennessee-mandated start dates for school calendars, and elected superintendents.

School board members also have approved spending more than $500,000 on furnishings and technology for the new administrative support center, or central office, at the old Quebecor World site near Food City.

The school system is to start moving offices into its portion of that $2.2 million complex in March.

The Kingsport Board of Education Thursday night voted 5-0 to approve resolutions on all four issues, with the calendar issue ironically on another part of the agenda where board members discussed two potential calendars for the 2012-13 school year.

The start dates for those calendars would be Aug. 6 and Aug. 13, respectively, but BOE member Susan Lodal said legislation that nearly passed the General Assembly earlier this year would not have allowed the Aug. 6 start date.

Under that bill, schools over a three-year period would move toward starting no earlier than the fourth Monday in August, starting with the second Monday the first year and the third Monday the second year.

The board looked at two calendars presented by Andy True, administrative coordinator for the school system.

One would start Aug. 6, have an October fall break, a three-day Thanksgiving break, and a two-week Christmas break after a last day Dec. 21.

The other would start Aug. 13, have a fall break the week of Thanksgiving, and have a half-day of school Dec. 21.

Both would restart school Jan. 7.

However, Lodal said the mandated later start would force the system to have finals or end-of-course testing after students return from winter break.

True said the following calendar questions or issues were possible: demographic data, starting school on a Monday versus Wednesday, starting school with a full or half day, having fall break for five days versus two or three, having fall break in October or Thanksgiving week.

True said the plans are to use the SchoolMessenger system to call each student’s household, taking a few minutes for a survey with an e-mail response as a backup and one response only allowed per family. Messages would be left on voicemail about the e-mail option, too. He said a parent or guardian e-mail is on file with PowerSchool for about 75 percent of students.

True is to present more information and a potential survey to the board at its Nov. 17 work session so the survey can be done in time for the BOE to make a calendar decision by its Dec. 1 meeting.

True said two crucial questions might be a fall break in October or Thanksgiving week and a start later or earlier in August, while BOE Vice President Carrie Upshaw suggested three questions about starting earlier or later in August, having a five-day fall break in October, or two long weekends and a full week at Thanksgiving.

Lodal suggested whatever calendar the board adopts that it have a backup if the calendar adopted next month runs counter to what the General Assembly might do in 2012.

The system may do a separate survey on the idea of “flipping” the elementary start time to be earlier than the middle and high school start time. At the same work session, the BOE is to get more information on that issue and decide if it wishes to pursue a survey.

The general idea is to have the high school and middle school students begin about 8:30 a.m. or so and the elementary students about 8 a.m., depending on how bus transportation would allow that to work and if the BOE decides it is best for the whole system.

A group of Dobyns-Bennett High School band and other parents attended the meeting, with most expressing opposition or questions about the idea.

Lodal said the voucher stance was not a jab at private schools but rather a move not to use taxpayer money for private schools, and the board consistently has opposed efforts to allow elected superintendents that began with 1992 education reform in the state.

Only three states — Alabama, Florida and Mississippi — allow elected superintendents, and Lodal said less than 1 percent of the nation’s almost 15,000 superintendents are elected.

On other matters, the BOE:

•Approved spending up to $550,000 from the unrestricted fund balance to purchase about $397,000 in furnishings for the new central office and almost $139,000 in technology for it plus another $10,000 to $15,000 for televisions, smart boards, kitchen appliances and other miscellaneous items.

The money comes from the same source the board last month took $206,000 for expenses at the new central office, but even with both the fund balance would remain nearly $500,000 more than the state-recommended 3 percent of the operational budget. The unrestricted fund balance is $1.04 million before the $550,000 is removed, which also will require approval by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

•Voted 5-0 to offer long-term care insurance to employees, retirees and their children, spouses, parents and parents-in-law. The school system would pay none of the premiums, and to be eligible employees would have to be on a health insurance plan through the state.

•Rescheduled, because the 7 p.m. meeting lasted until 10 p.m., reports on the state’s new teacher evaluation process and renaming the New Horizons Alternative School until the Nov. 17 work session.

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