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Compromise School Start Date Bill Keeps Control Local

Karyn Czar

A Republican lawmaker has backed off a proposal mandating that schools postpone the start of the school year to late August. A compromise measure passed out of committee Thursday would task new school calendar committees with crafting start date recommendations for local districts.

The revised Senate Bill 50 places school officials, parents, a representative from the business or tourism sector, and other potential appointees on the committees, then allows districts final say on the resulting proposals.

"Schools can choose to start school at any time of their choosing, but it allows each district the opportunity to be innovative, creative, and flexible in determining their community needs," bill sponsor Chris Girdler told the Senate Education Committee.

If enacted, schools opting for later start dates must still meet the required 1062 hours of instructional time for the school year, but not necessarily within the minimum 170 days mandated by state law. Districts eager to make up for lost time could lengthen the school day to a maximum of seven instructional hours.

Co-sponsor Damon Thayer foresees districts gradually jumping on that bandwagon.

"I think we're going to see some school districts to do this if it passed the House and I think people will see the tremendous positive effect it'll have on our economy and on education," he told reporters. "Kids should not be in school during the hottest month of the year."

Girdler had hoped to postpone school start dates to no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

Proponents of later start dates argue Kentucky economy is forgoing $432 million in summer tourism dollars and related economic activity by sending students back to class in early August. But district leaders had reservations about ceding control of the calendar to the state, arguing communities benefit from tailoring their start dates, breaks, and vacations to their unique needs.

Lexington Rep. Reggie Thomas said Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk is supportive of the compromise language. Fayette County public schools started their current year on Aug. 12, 2015. If enacted, SB50 would go into effect during the 2017 school year.

The bill won unanimous support in committee and now goes to the full Senate.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.