July 26, 2010
Johnson not concerned about local control
By Scott Wright
CENTRE — School Superintendent Brian Johnson last week told The Post he will stand solidly behind a proposal from the head of the committee that funds the state's education system, even though it could strip some local control from the Cherokee County Board of Education.
“I know Rep. Richard Lindsey has the best interests of the students and the employees at heart,” Johnson said. “He's done all the studies, along with AEA, and if they say doing this will increase our revenues then I say let's try it.”
In the July 19 issue of the Alabama Education Association's Alabama School Journal, Lindsey (D-Centre), who chairs the House Education Appropriations Committee, called for a state-mandated school year start date that he claims could save the state millions every day.
The article revealed that in a recent email to all school system superintendents, Lindsey wrote that he understands each system's desire to maintain local control of start dates.
“However, the start date needs to be balanced with a concern for increasing tax dollars available for public education,” Lindsey wrote.
The article said Lindsey based his argument on a 2009 study by Auburn University-Montgomery which estimated that a later start to the school year could save the state as much as $26 million per day when factors such as teacher pay, operations costs, higher summer utility bills and lost tourism dollars are factored in.
Lindsey wrote that a reduction in vacation days during the school year would also mean the return to a more traditional summer vacation than Alabama students currently enjoy.
“Giving vacation in a block over the summer is the best for the economy, public school coffers, and public opinion polls show the longer summer vacation is preferred by the parents of school age children,” Lindsey told the Journal.
The article said Lindsey is prepared to introduce legislation in February that will allow the state Board of Education to once again control the school calendar.
“I will be filing legislation … and I hope to have all my colleagues join me as co-sponsors,” Lindsey said.
Johnson said he's all for handing over some local decision-making ability if it means more money can make its way into the classroom.
“With the economy the way it is now, if that's a way we could increase summertime tourism revenue and generate more money for our schools, then I'm all for it,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the state already mandates the number of days students must be in the classroom, and provides a majority of the funding to keep doors open and lights on.
“When you look at those mandatory classroom days, figuring out when classes start and end is not a major issue,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the state-mandated 180 days a year,
plus the current preference for ending school just after Memorial
Day and including a fall and spring break in the school year, means
the first week of August is pretty much mandatory, already.
Johnson said his only question about Lindsey's proposal is whether the 180-day mandate will be reduced.
“There's been talk about going to a four-day school week, as Chattooga, Ga. has done,” Johnson said. “But as long as Alabama requires 180 days in the classroom that is not an option for us, even though we figured out last year that we could save $70,000 on fuel costs alone by running bus routes only four days a week.”
Johnson estimated that he and the Board of Education are currently forced to operate the county school system on somewhere around 80 percent of the money that was available to them five years ago.
“And we're sitting here, right now, hoping there will not be another round of proration [budget cuts] before the end of this fiscal year,” Johnson said.