Scott County

State debate on school calendar playing out in Scott County

Kentucky State Senator Damon Thayer
Kentucky State Senator Damon Thayer Lexington

The debate on whether some Kentucky school districts start the school year too early is playing out in Scott County.

The Scott County school board decided last week to delay a vote that would start the 2016 school year on Aug. 4.

Scott board member Stephanie Watson Powers told the Herald-Leader that people in Scott County tell her they don’t want to start school that early. Powers said she thinks the school board should wait until April and see whether a measure is approved by the 2016 General Assembly that would prevent schools from starting classes earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

“I feel strongly that our community does not want” an August 4 start date, said Powers.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Scott County, and state Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, have said they would file a measure in 2016 that would prevent schools from starting classes earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26. Most Kentucky school districts start the school year before Aug. 26.

A similar measure during the 2015 General Assembly failed.

“I do feel like the bill that Sen. Girdler and I are going to file has a good chance to pass,” Thayer said in an interview this week. “I would caution any school board in Kentucky from prematurely adopting a calendar until we get through the session.”

Thayer said the fact that Scott County school officials were debating the Aug. 4 date “proves the point that Senator Girdler and I have been making and that is school starts too early. It robs our kids and their families of their summers.”

Thayer said the bill would have a good economic impact. He said previously that a later start date helps tourism. And he said the legislation would improve the “educational environment” at schools.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told the Herald-Leader in August that "overall, I support the concept of waiting until closer to Labor Day to start school.”

Stumbo said that as long as there was flexibility for school districts to handle weather-related issues like snow and flooding, he didn’t have a problem with a law that establishes both a starting and ending date for school calendars.

Will Republican Gov. Elect Matt Bevin, support the legislation?

“Governor-Elect Bevin has made it clear that modernizing education to improve learning outcomes is a priority,” his spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said Tuesday. “ As legislation is developed he looks forward to working closely with the cabinet, legislators and education stakeholders on the initiatives that will benefit Kentucky’s kids. “

Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said that under state regulations, boards have until May 15, 2016, to adopt their calendars for 2016-17. But by practice, many if not most adopt their calendars well before May, he said.

The Fayette County Board of Education adopted its 2016-17 school year calendar last March 23. The first day of school for students is scheduled for Aug. 10, 2016.

Hughes said the Kentucky School Boards Association opposes any legislation that would restrict local leaders from making all decisions about school calendars.

Powers, meanwhile, said she was in favor of a later start date in Scott County because the weather could be hotter on Aug. 4 and adequate air conditioning was an issue on buses and in some classrooms. Powers said a later start date better accommodated families’ vacation schedules.

Board chairman Haley Conway said in an interview that he did not know when the Scott school board would vote on a start date. He said the Aug. 4 start date was a recommendation from a calendar committee that included district staff. Conway said he had asked Scott Superintendent Patricia Putty to meet with two school board members —Jo Anna Fryman and Kevin Kidwell —to come up with a proposed date that the school board could vote on and he did not know how long that would take.

Conway said he could not speak for the board as a whole, but his personal opinion was “that starting school in early August was just too early.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears