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March 21, 2014

Lawmakers to issue snow day decision Monday

FRANKFORT — A conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers began meeting Friday to work out differences on bills to allow local school districts some flexibility about how they make up missed days because of bad weather.

By noon Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, and Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, reported progress but they said a final agreement will have to wait until Monday as lawmakers checked the impact of the proposed compromise on local districts.

Neither chamber nor party has any reluctance to help local districts, around 10 of which have missed more than 30 days. But the Senate wants to ensure students receive as many instructional hours as possible.

The Senate originally suggested districts alter calendars in ways to meet the state-mandated 1,062 hours of instruction per year and for those districts which couldn’t meet that target and end school by a reasonable date could appeal to Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday for a waiver.

The House preferred to offer districts up to 10 days to be utilized at the discretion of local superintendents. Neither would back of its proposal and accept the other’s. So Friday, Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, appointed members from their respective chambers to a conference committee.

Stivers appointed Wilson, who chairs the Senate Education Committee; Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, who sponsored the Senate bill; and Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester. Stumbo appointed Stacy; Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington; Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps; Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge; and Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville.

Noticeably absent was Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, a retired teacher who chairs the House Education Committee. Graham said he was left off the conference committee because he’s all along supported a relief plan for local districts which includes some accountability for getting in as much instruction as possible.

When Stumbo was asked why Graham wasn’t on the committee, he said: “He’s more concerned about days kids are in school than about days they ain’t.”

Stumbo said most House members preferred to allow the local superintendents the flexibility and discretion than to place the final authority with Holliday. “We hear a lot concern from districts that some districts who are in favor with Dr. Holliday fare better than those who aren’t,” Stumbo said.

Holliday didn’t respond directly to Stumbo’s comments about unequal treatment of local districts.

“I recognize this year’s inclement winter weather has been unusual and I sympathize with the problems it has caused with school calendars,” Holliday said. “Of course the education of Kentucky’s public school students is our number one priority. I trust the legislature will find a balance between students’ need for instruction and the pressure to dismiss school to accommodate summer plans.”

That’s the rub. Districts don’t want to extend the calendar much into June and face the ire of parents who’ve made vacation plans. But they need an answer from Frankfort soon because they’ve got to determine an end date to accommodate end-of-the-year testing and set dates for graduation.

Stacy and Wilson said they’d reached a proposed compromise Friday which would “encourage” districts to find ways to reach 1,062 hours of instruction. Districts could extend school days so long as they didn’t go past seven hours a day.

The proposed compromise is also likely to set a “drop-dead date” for ending school, Stacy said, probably June 11. But local school boards and superintendents in those districts which can’t meet the 1,062 hour goal by that time could end school without seeking a waiver from Holliday.

Both lawmakers, however, cautioned that no final deal has been struck and won’t be before Monday. Even then if the conference committee members agree, the final proposal will have to be approved by majority votes in both chambers.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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