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Schools await governor's action on school starting date bill

 

Carl Smith

 

Public school leaders across the state are waiting to see if Gov. Phil Bryant takes action today on SB 2571, a bill that would repeal 2012's call for academic years to begin on or after the third Monday in August. 

 

Unless repealed, public school systems would be subject to the late start date for the first time in the 2014-2015 academic year. 

 

Senate and House leaders signed the enrolled bill last week, and the legislation is due today from the governor, according to the Mississippi Legislature's website. 

 

Bryant could either sign the bill or veto it, thereby leaving an override up to lawmakers. He previously signed the 2012 legislation that set the late start date. 

 

A Bryant spokesperson previously told The Associated Press that the governor would review the bill, but it is unknown if he will approve it or send it back to the House and Senate. 

 

The current law came to fruition after Gulf Coast officials successfully lobbied legislators for the change, Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said. The group pitched the delay as a way to possibly increase tourism revenues, he said. 

 

Local school leaders say the delay could hurt preparation efforts for state testing and possibly force students to finish their fall semester after Christmas break. 

 

"I don't know what will happen," Chism said Tuesday. "(When lawmakers first addressed the late start) ... we asked the former state superintendent of education to come in with a date, and he gave us the third Monday in August. If you do without a couple holidays that some systems stick in there for October, maybe leave off an extra day during Thanksgiving holidays, I think they could get done in time. However, I think having to come back (after Christmas break to finish the semester) would be awful. 

 

"I guess I'm a good politician today since I can see both sides of the argument," he added. 

 

Columbus Municipal School District, Lowndes County School District and Starkville School District began their respective 2013-2014 academic years Aug. 7, while an Oktibbeha County School District spokesperson said it started the year Aug. 1.  

 

This year's starting date would be pushed to Aug. 18 at the earliest if the current law stands. 

 

"It's a matter of local control," SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said. "Local school boards understand their communities' needs much better than anyone across the state. To have a late school date based on the tourism industry and the gambling revenue it brings to a certain area in the state is just wrong in my opinion. It affects how we test kids because it puts more days behind the testing, when we need that time to be teaching ahead of the tests." 

 

Neither OCSD, nor SSD has formally set a starting date for the 2014-2015 academic year as administrators wait to see if Bryant signs the bill. CMSD Superintendent Edna McGill said the district has two calendars ready: one with an early start date, and another adhering to the current requirement. 

 

"If they repeal the start date, we want to use the start date that we used this year or thereabouts," she said. "We're hoping he signs (the bill) any day now to repeal the start date so we can pick our own start date. 

 

"One, we need the maximum number of instruction days, prior to state tests, especially with state tests being new this year," McGill added. "Two, with starting in August, we'll have equal number of days first semester and second semester. That makes us be able to take our semester exams before Christmas, instead of having to come back and do it after. Also if we have the early start date, it allows us to have professional development throughout the year. It's more beneficial to our teachers to do it that way." 

 

OCSD Conservator Margie Pulley was outside of the district Tuesday, a spokesperson said, and unavailable for comment. 

 

Dispatch reporter Sarah Fowler contributed to this article.

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch

 

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