Calendar constraints

Catawba County Schools Superintendent Glenn Barger says he's not happy with the 2012-13 school calendar approved by the system's board of education this week.

"It's a terrible calendar," Barger said. "We're boxed in by the state."

In June, the N.C. General Assembly approved the addition of five days to the school year. For the 2011-12 school year, the state Department of Public Instruction granted waivers to all 115 school systems to use the extra days for teacher training. Students will still attend classes 180 days this year.

"Next year, that's not an option to keep students at 180 and use the extra five for teachers," said Dr. Barry Redmond, superintendent of Newton-Conover City Schools.

Systems are required to adopt 185-day school calendars for 2012-13.

Redmond and Barger say the requirement will add five days of extra costs to operate facilities and buses at a time when budgets are already tight.

"We're not expecting any extra money to operate those extra days," Barger said. "The board's obligated to pass a calendar. They're obligated to get one out in front of the public as soon as they can so people can make personal schedule adjustments as soon as possible. The only thing we can do is play with this thing."

Redmond said Newton-Conover City Schools does see the extra instructional days as a positive change for students. However, he and Barger said working the extra school days into a tight time window set by the state is a difficult task.

The state does not allow school systems to begin classes before Aug. 25 or end classes after June 10. Between those dates, systems must include 185 school days, 215 employment days for staff and 10 vacation days.

"It becomes extremely hard to build a calendar with those requirements," Redmond said. "The issue becomes, when you build it, there's not much flexibility left to provide teacher workdays. What you end up with is teachers with sometimes nine or 10 weeks without a workday, and they get tired."

Redmond said Newton-Conover City Schools has drafted a calendar for next school year. He expects the system to adopt a calendar in November or December.

Redmond and Barger said Catawba County Schools, Newton-Conover City Schools and Hickory Public Schools have had conversations about creating calendars with similar starting dates, ending dates and holidays.

"We're trying to work on a common calendar," Barger said. "Many parents work in one system, and their kids go to school in one of the other systems."

School board meeting

In other business at Monday's Catawba County Schools Board of Education meeting, the board gave Barger permission to schedule inclement weather make-up days on Saturdays if necessary.

"We'll try to avoid that," Barger said. "It'll really depend on the kind of winter we have."

Barger said holding school on Saturdays is a staff problem.

"It's not a problem for teachers, but custodians and other staff members can't work a sixth day and work overtime," he said.

The board also set a calendar for building a budget for the 2012-13 school year. That process will begin Nov. 1-Dec. 2 as school staff members, principals and central office employees set capital outlay budget priorities. A budget proposal will be due to the county manager by Feb. 28.