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Published: Wednesday, 2/9/2011

Ohio schools likely to regain 2 calamity days

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- As calamity days pile up like drifted snow along roadways, Ohio lawmakers are looking to give back the two weather-related off days for schools that they took away.

It's part of the Republican-majority General Assembly's dismantling of the so-called evidence-based-model education reforms enacted under former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland two years ago.

"How many movies can you watch in one day?" asked Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), sponsor of the Senate calamity days bill.

He said superintendents have told him that make-up days tacked onto the end of the school year after testing is completed are among the year's least productive.

Mr. Strickland had proposed a long-term plan to eventually extend the length of the school year from the current 182 instruction days, minus the excused days, to 200.

His first move in that direction came in the form of a reduction in the number of calamity days to three from five.

The Grendell bill, for which the first Senate hearing was held, would restore those two days.

The number of excused calamity days would have returned to five next year anyhow, but that was under the assumption that Mr. Strickland, if he'd been re-elected, would have continued to pursue a longer school year in subsequent budgets.

Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, supports the restoration of the two calamity days.

"The schools in my Senate district have used more than three calamity days and there are still two months of potentially dangerous weather," Mr. Grendell said. "The current process has created safety and financial burdens for many school districts.

"In my Senate district alone, the cost of one make-up day to the Mentor School District is estimated to be $75,000 to $90,000," he said. "The cost of the Chardon School District is estimated to be $25,000 to $30,000 for one make-up day."

So far, Toledo Public Schools has used all three of its excused days. Under current law, if it uses more, the district would have to spend an estimated $750,000 a day in salary and other costs for which it would not be reimbursed, district spokesman Patty Mazur said.

The bill would continue to allow schools to make up some of their lost days by tacking 30 additional minutes onto each school day.

It would also take that a step further, allowing schools to count additional time they routinely teach in excess of the legal minimum school day.

Current law, which mandates a five-hour day for grades 1 to 6 and 5.5 hours for higher grades, does not give extra credit to schools that do more than that.

Mr. Kasich has pledged to roll back the K-12 education reforms pushed through two years ago by Mr. Strickland and fellow Democrats and a handful of Republicans in the legislature.

But the state relied on federal stimulus dollars to maintain support for schools in the current budget, money not expected to be forthcoming in the next budget due on Mr. Kasich's desk by June 30.

With the state projecting a revenue shortfall in the neighborhood of $8 billion over the next two years, schools across the state are bracing for subsidy cuts.

A House committee could vote as soon as tonight on a bill proposed by Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) to also repeal the mandate that all school districts offer full-day kindergarten.

The Senate is considering a similar measure.

Thomas Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said evidence shows that students benefit academically from all-day kindergarten, but he voiced support for dropping the mandate.

"Even though the state superintendent of public instruction has announced the availability of a two-year waiver from the all-day kindergarten requirement, we feel that this is a decision best made at the local level," he said.

"The decision that a district lacks the facilities and resources to support all-day kindergarten is best made by local administrators and elected boards of education."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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