Originally created 11/28/02

Officials disagree on school start day

COLUMBIA - South Carolina lawmakers are preparing to step back into a fight over who gets to decide when schools can start.

The state Education Board is set to give final approval next month to a plan that would limit schools to open around Labor Day, which bodes well for the tourism industry that wants to preserve the summer season.

The 17-member board tackled the issue after the Legislature created a task force of parents, educators and business leaders to study whether South Carolina should set a uniform date to start school each year.

But House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Ronny Townsend says fellow legislators still want to weigh in because some school officials say the proposal interferes in decisions that traditionally are handled locally.

In a Nov. 20 letter to state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, the Anderson Republican said he would file legislation to block the plan.

Earlier this year, Horry County legislators sparked debate over school calendars when they sought permission for their local schools to administer annual standardized tests later than other districts, prompting a later start date.

Lawmakers thought they worked out a compromise by asking the state school board to work with the task force. Nine of the state board's 17 members gave a preliminary approval to the proposal earlier this month.

Mr. Townsend said he accepted responsibility for legislation that spawned the current debate.

"I authored the budget proviso asking only for the report (on starting date options), not for implementation," Mr. Townsend wrote.

Educators and school trustees have been building a case against the policy, which comes up for a vote Dec. 11.

Scott Price, spokesman for the South Carolina School Boards Association, said he was deeply troubled that "We're getting ready to make a major change in state policy based on special interests out of Myrtle Beach."

Under the proposal, schools would be required to open no earlier than the last Monday in August and no later than the Wednesday after Labor Day.

Some districts have encouraged educators and others to write to school board members and legislators in protest of the change. And some teachers have complained that a new start time would alter their pay schedules.

Robert Scarborough, the executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, says school schedules should remain in local hands.

"The local community has an opinion about the school schedule, and the school board ... works with the community to design a calendar that fits the desire of the locale," Mr. Scarborough said.


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