Board OKs plan, but pending bill could cut 5 days from schedule
By Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily
The 2011-12 calendar approved by the Decatur school board Tuesday eliminates fall break, cuts Thanksgiving break to three days, cuts Christmas break to nine days, and has one inclement weather day scheduled.
But the calendar — which Superintendent Sam Houston said the PTA Council, a group of teacher representatives and a calendar committee chose — could change before it goes into effect.
State Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, has proposed a bill that would allow school to start Aug. 22 and end on the Friday before Memorial Day. Barton told the Mobile Press-Register that his bill would help the summer tourism economy.
Decatur approved a start date of Aug. 15 and the same end date as Barton’s proposal, May 24, the Friday before Memorial Day.
“Between hurricanes and oil spills, South Alabama has taken a severe beating over the last few years,” Barton said in a written statement to the Mobile Press-Register. “This legislation will provide a much-deserved break for our tourism industry and has no negative impact on our schools.”
Houston said Decatur’s calendar follows state Superintendent Joe Morton’s request to have a later start to the school year. He is not, however, in favor of losing another five days.
He called Barton’s view “short-sighted” because he said the representative’s statement only considers the interest of one area of the state.
“His (Barton’s) proposal would compromise our ability to perform well on (standardized) tests,” Houston said. “It may affect the economic conditions of a local community as much or more than any potential tourism losses.”
Houston said pushing the start back another five days would probably impact Christmas break the most. He said the second semester probably would start before students celebrate the new year.
He said he wouldn’t want to cut Veterans Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“I wouldn’t want to send a message to students that we shouldn’t observe days that are recognized as important to certain groups,” Houston said.
Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Visitors Bureau, said Decatur’s new school calendar “is a start,” but she likes Barton’s proposal.
She said the tourist attractions, particularly Point Mallard, in Decatur and Morgan County, need the later start to benefit from travelers from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana who are passing through on the way to Florida.
“We’re in a good location down Interstate 65 for them to stop for a rest before heading to the beach,” Reist said.
Reist said at least two school systems, Lawrence and Baldwin counties, started school later in 2010-11. She said it will be interesting to see how the later start impacts academics.
School board President Karen Duke has been in favor of pushing the start date back, but she said Barton’s proposal pushes it too far. She said parents and business leaders tell her school starts too early, but teachers prefer the early start because it gives days off during the school year.
“It’s hard to make everybody happy,” Duke said.
For the 2010-11 school year, Decatur students started school on Aug. 9. Students’ last day is May 31 because of unscheduled weather make-up days.
New school calendar
Highlights of the 2011-12 school calendar that the Decatur City Board of Education approved Tuesday:
■School starts Aug. 15.
■Thanksgiving break is Nov. 23-26.
■Christmas break is Dec. 20 through Jan. 4.
■Spring semester starts Jan. 5.
■Spring break is April 23-27.
■Last day for students is May 24.
■Austin High School graduation is May 24.
■Decatur High School graduation is May 25.