Interim Joint Committee on Education

 

Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education

 

Minutes of the<MeetNo1> 1st Meeting

of the 2010 Interim

 

<MeetMDY1> July 12, 2010

 

Call to Order and Roll Call

The<MeetNo2> first meeting of the Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education of the Interim Joint Committee on Education was held on<Day> Monday,<MeetMDY2> July 12, 2010, at<MeetTime> 10:00 AM, in<Room> Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Vernie McGaha, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.

 

Present were:

 

Members:<Members> Senator Vernie McGaha, Co-Chair; Representative Ted Edmonds, Co-Chair; Senator Ken Winters; Representatives Linda Belcher, John "Bam" Carney, Hubert Collins, Derrick Graham, Rick G. Nelson, Marie Rader, Carl Rollins II, Wilson Stone, Alecia Webb-Edgington, and Jill York.

 

Guests:  Darrell Treece, Superintendent, Adair County Schools; James Evans, Jr., Superintendent, Lee County Schools; Wayne Young, Executive Director, Kentucky Association of School Administrators; Jim Thompson, Legislative Liaison, Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development; Anna Craft, Superintendent, Letcher County Schools; and Kay Kennedy, Office of District Support Services, Kentucky Department of Education.

 

LRC Staff:  Sandy Deaton, Audrey Carr, and Janet Oliver.

 

Welcome and Recognition of New Subcommittee Member

            Senator McGaha recognized the newly appointed member to the subcommittee, Representative Jill York, from Carter County, who represents Legislative District 96.

 

Discussion of School Calendars

            Committee members were provided a copy of the PowerPoint slides and related information concerning school calendar requirements.  Commissioner Terry Holliday said that school district calendars are governed by KRS 158.070 which requires a minimum 185 day school term with no less than 175 six-hour instructional days; a minimum of four professional development days; a maximum of four optional holidays; a maximum of two optional planning days without students; and an optional opening and closing day for students.  Budget language included in House Bill 1 passed during the 2010 Special Session also requires an equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days or 1,062 instructional hours and directs the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), through the Kentucky Board of Education, to promulgate regulations by August 1, 2010, to allow for innovative alternative calendars for districts with less than 177 six-hour instructional days.

 

            Commissioner Holliday explained that the regulatory language in 702 KAR 7:140 requires that graduation occur after the last instructional day and district calendars must include make-up time for days missed due to emergency equal to the greatest number of days missed system-wide in the district in the preceding five years.  Disaster days cannot be requested until more than 20 regular instructional days have been missed and all required makeup days have been utilized as instructional days. Commissioner Holliday said that the legislature had previously waived the requirement that districts make up all days missed beyond 20 instructional days but no legislative directive was issued for the past school year.  Also, no school district requested a waiver to the regulation because of time constraints. 

 

            Commissioner Holliday said during the 2009-10 school year, 18 districts had to make up 20 or more days; 70 districts made up 10 to19 days; and 86 districts made up 2 to 9 days.  He said since districts must include make-up days based on the largest number of days missed in any one preceding five years when submitting the upcoming school year calendar, the number of make-up days will increase for the 2010-11 school calendar because of the numerous weather and illness related days missed during the last two years.  Information was provided on the 11 districts that were approved for disaster days during 2009-10 school year and the proposed 2010-11 calendar information for those districts incorporating make-up days based on five year data.  Many of the districts will begin school in early August, even though they had mid or late June dismissal, and will not have scheduled spring or fall breaks.

 

            The number of teacher contract days for the 2009-10 calendar year ranged from 185 to 192 days, with the majority of 153 districts having 187 contract days.  Total instructional days ranged from less than 170 to 177 days with the majority in the 175-177 range and all districts met the 1,062 hour requirement.  Commissioner Holliday said the 2010-11 district school calendars will be approved by September 1 and the information will be made available to legislators.  Information was also provided on K-12 minimum instruction days and/or equivalent hours for the 2009-10 school year for states in the Southern Region Educational Board area.

 

            Commissioner Holliday said the most significant issues resulting from missed days when disasters occur is the loss of valuable student instructional time with teachers, its effect on retention and flow of instruction, and the administrative issues in accounting for instructional days and hours for students and staff.  He said he has met with interested parties in every region of the state and sought feedback from superintendents and the consensus appears to be that a virtual learning system is the most viable alternative.   Virtual learning would be an expansion of the Live@edu system that is already available in all districts.  The challenges in using virtual learning include computer availability, internet access in remote areas, administrative issues related to special education, meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements in home environments, and teacher and classified employee contract issues.  Commissioner Holliday said that he is seeking voluntary input from at least five districts in Eastern Kentucky to identify problems and recommend solutions to implementing a virtual learning environment so that legislation can be proposed to implement and fund a pilot program in the January-April 2011 timeframe. 

 

            In response to a question from Representative Stone, Commissioner Holliday said it is envisioned that virtual learning hours would be utilized as make-up days.  He said other issues would be to ensure student and teacher instruction accountability and providing backup resources for students who do not have access to needed hardware and infrastructure. 

 

            Representative Collins asked how many days a school system could make up by adding minutes to the school day and if teachers and classified employees are required to make up any hours or days beyond the extended school day.  Commissioner Holliday said that a district must attempt to have school on all scheduled make-up days but at a minimum must meet the 1,062 hour requirement by June 30 of each year and that relief cannot be granted until all of the scheduled make-up days have been used.  In response to a question from Representative Collins on internet availability in rural areas,   Commissioner Holliday said that KDE is working with the Commonwealth Office of Technology to access federal funding and that legislators may be able to assist KDE in resolving overlapping and proprietary service issues that may hamper implementation.  Representative Collins said that cellular telephones may be an alternative to internet access and Commissioner Holliday said that option is being explored as a means for students to access lesson assignments.  Commissioner Holliday said it is also anticipated that textbooks will become an online digitized resource within the next five years.   He said no funding was allocated in the upcoming biennium for textbooks and therefore supplements are being developed to incorporate changes related to the new common core standards.   

 

            In response to a question from Senator McGaha, Commissioner Holliday said that a biennial survey of technology showed that 100% of teachers have online access and approximately 80% of students have access although the percentage in some Eastern Kentucky counties may be far less.

 

            In response to questions from Representative Belcher about the affect of virtual learning on classified staff and special education students, Commissioner Holliday said that virtual classrooms could reduce the costs of transportation, child nutrition, and related services, but districts may need to assign other duties to classified staff.   He said research has shown that many special needs students are identifying with game-based instruction and that the University of Kentucky Innovation Lab Partnership is developing tools that could be used in a pilot project to measure the adverse or positive effects of virtual instruction for special needs students.  He said that KDE would also need to resolve federal education requirements for special needs students in a virtual learning environment. 

 

            Senator McGaha asked if a student would be counted absent if he/she did not log on to the system.  Commissioner Holliday said that student/teacher accountability would be required.

 

            Representative Carney said that textbooks are being used much less frequently in the classroom and the greatest need is technology, especially since many students excel in technologically advanced classrooms. Commissioner Holliday said that several foundations, including the Gates Foundation, may have funding available and KDE is actively pursuing those funding sources for virtual learning resources. 

 

            Senator Winters cautioned that it is important to maintain a good student-teacher relationship in a virtual learning environment, even during a pilot project. 

 

            Representative Collins asked for information on the funding cuts in the Read to Achieve program.  Commissioner Holliday said his office will provide the subcommittee members a detailed step by step explanation on the funding cuts for Read to Achieve and Math Achievement funds.  He said that unexpended funds were swept beginning in FY 2009 to help offset the General Fund shortfall and grants have been reduced to a 65/35 General Fund/district split since that year.  In the 2010 fiscal year, districts were alerted that all reconciliation payments needed to be submitted in order to avoid loss of program funds.  As a result, $700,000 lapsed at the end of June instead of a much larger sum.  Districts will receive their allocated FY 2011 funds which can be used to reimburse FY 2010 program costs.  In response to a question from Representative Collins, Commissioner Holliday said districts received appropriated Read to Achieve and Math Achievement funds except for the mid-year budget cuts directed by the Governor.

 

            In response to a question from Representative Stone, Commissioner Holliday said if a school district scheduled a make-up day and was unable to have school on that day because of weather or other conditions, then two days would be added to next year’s school calendar.  Kay Kennedy, Interim Associate Commissioner, Office of District Support Services, said that the information provided in the PowerPoint presentation reflects the greatest number of days in the last five years that a district missed in any one year period.  She said that any day of school marked on the amended school calendar as closed because of weather or other disasters must be counted as a make-up day.  Commissioner Holliday reiterated that, at the end of the school year, each district is accountable for 1,062 hours in each school. 

 

            In response to a question from Representative Webb-Edgington, Commissioner Holliday said 185 days is the minimum school term for teachers and classified employees, although the actual number of hours and days is often governed by collective bargaining contracts and varies from district to district.  He said the statute requires a minimum equivalent of 175 six-hour days for student instruction, although budget language directed the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days. 

 

            In response to a question from Representative Nelson, Commissioner Holliday said all counties received their entire allocation for the Read to Achieve grants except for the budget cuts directed by the Governor’s Office.  He said, because current year funds can be used to reimburse past year expenses, districts continually work in a risk management scenario since the funds are always subject to cuts.  Representative Nelson said that $3,000,000 is allocated each year for the Read to Achieve program from coal severance funds and asked if the coal producing counties also received cuts in funding.  Commissioner Holliday said he would obtain information from the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management on coal county funding.  He also said there are no plans to further reduce Read to Achieve or Math Achievement funding.

 

            In response to a question from Representative Graham, Commissioner Holliday said that, notwithstanding KRS 158.070, the school term for FY 2011 and FY 2012 shall include the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days, although funding was provided for 176 six-hour instructional days.  KDE does not have the ability to control the length of teacher contracts but the school term has to be at least 185 days.  School districts must obtain approval for an innovative calendar below 170 days but any calendar between 170 and 177 days would be approved as long as the 1,062 hours is met.

 

            Senator McGaha asked if the districts that are required to attend school up to mid-June or later are just fulfilling law or accomplishing effective instruction.  Commissioner Holliday said that when the Senate Bill 1 testing period of the last 10-15 days of school begins in 2012, any negative impact of late school closing will be alleviated.   He said that by October 31, KDE will provide a report to the legislature regarding test scores for those districts that utilized less than 177 days last year and those that went beyond June 1.

 

Comments

            Mr. Darrell Treece, Superintendent, Adair County Schools, said his district missed only 11 days during the last calendar year although the norm is 3-5 days.  Adair County operates on a 6 hour 15 minute day and used 4 days of banked time as instructional days with teachers and classified employees performing other duties to make up the time.  He said even with missed instructional days, Adair County has been recognized for several accomplishments.  The high school band was one of eight high schools from across the nation and the only Kentucky school selected to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; the middle school’s Future Problemsolving Team won the state and placed third in the world out of 280 schools nationally; and the high school academic team won regionally and won at state in various categories and some of the categories placed 7th in national competition.  He said the middle school is currently not meeting annual yearly progress goals but all staff is working to improve that situation.  Mr. Treece said some days were missed after graduation invitations had been mailed and retirements scheduled.  As a result, school was held on Saturday to make up a missed day, but only 75% of the students attended.  He said it would be helpful if districts could use election day as a make-up day when necessary. 

 

            In response to a question from Representative Graham about implementing an alternative schedule, Mr. Treece said that although many students may be able to use the two to three week break in schedule to make up work and the time would be available for make-up days, he would still be concerned about the loss of instructional momentum. 

 

            Ms. Anna Craft, Superintendent, Letcher County Schools, said that the district has tried many different alternative calendars.  During the last school year, 27 days were missed district-wide.  Also the Martha Jane Potter Elementary School missed 6 additional days beyond the 27 because of the H1N1 virus, but the students still scored academically above the state average.  The district did not seek a district-wide waiver of days although days were requested for individual schools because of various disasters.  The district has eliminated fall break and will have no break in the upcoming calendar until December 22 – January 3 and spring break and holidays will be used if needed to make up days.  She said the district policy is for 6 hour 10 minute days, but in order to bank 10 days they actually go 33 minutes extra each day all year long, which is a large enough segment to allow for meaningful instruction.  The district plans for various emergencies by having teachers prepare packets that may be sent home with students when inclement weather is imminent.  The district has also purchased a program called Kids College for students fortunate enough to have computers in the home.  Ms. Craft said that the virtual learning concept is a good idea but her district does not have the financial resources to purchase hardware and the county does not have adequate internet service lines, although cellular telephone service may be an option and their local television station may provide an avenue for virtual learning.  She told Commissioner Holliday that her district would like to participate in the virtual learning pilot project.  Ms. Craft said that school always begins in early August and they still do not get out until June.  She said the Pine Mountain roads are very dangerous in inclement weather and student safety is the primary concern for the district.    

 

            In response to a question from Senator McGaha, Ms. Craft estimated that no more than 60% of the students in the district have computers at home with online access. 

 

            In response to a question from Representative Collins regarding transportation issues that may arise when not all schools in the district are closed, Ms. Craft said they have not had any transportation difficulties.  She said classified personnel, such as bus drivers and cooks, are allowed to bank time when they do special activities, such as bus runs at night and on weekends and extra cleaning of kitchen areas.  They then use the time during school closure and are paid for any unused time at the end of the school year.  She said the county operates on 177 instructional days and that teachers also have 6 professional days.  During the last year, they used two holidays for professional days in order to avoid teacher pay cuts. 

 

            Representative Carney commended the school system for their innovative approach to making up missed days and for putting child-safety first.  He asked if there would be any benefit to linking the terms of teachers to instructional days and using opening and closing days as professional development time.  Ms. Craft said if banked time is not used, teachers and classified staff have to go the full school term and using opening and closing days for both students and employees could be helpful, although some districts are not allowed to use that schedule because of negotiated contracts.

 

            Mr. Jim Evans, Superintendent, Lee County Schools, said that his district has 1100 students and the primary focus is always improving student academic achievement.  During the last school year, the district missed 29 days of which 26 were for inclement weather and 3 for illness, although prior to 2008-09, the district had historically missed about 15 days annually.  The school day is 6 hours 15 minutes and all make-up days have been added to the end of the school calendar.  The district does not schedule fall or spring breaks although they are required to close for two days in the spring for the Central Kentucky Education Association (CKEA) meeting.  Professional development begins the last week in July, school begins the first week of August, and the only planned breaks are Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Mr. Evans said one of the biggest obstacles related to inclement weather in Lee County is the numerous gravel roads, which cannot be plowed or salted to remove snow, resulting in longer delays in returning to school.  He said Lee County would also like to participate in a virtual learning pilot project, but the lack of county-wide designated service lines could prove to be an obstacle.  Lee County is one of eight districts in Kentucky competing with 3,000 schools nationwide to obtain an innovative grant from Apple for $3 million dollars to obtain iPads for the students, which could be used for virtual classes and online textbooks.  He said canceling school is a serious decision not only because of missed instructional time and ensuring the physical safety of students, but because many students in the high poverty area miss the only nutritional meals they may have during those days.  Mr. Evans said that House Bill 406 budget language in the 2008 legislative session and the current budget has prevented the district from using any of its banked time to meet required hours.  He said it would be helpful if CKEA days and election days could be used as make-up days if needed.  

 

            Representative Graham said his district offers classes beyond normal school hours to allow students who are below grade average to make up work and to offer enrichment programs for students who are excelling.  Ms. Craft said transportation outside normal school days is difficult for most students in her district.  She said when Extended School Services (ESS) funds were available, the district provided additional services for students.  Mr. Treece said that a trimester alternative schedule is being implemented at the high school level in his district to address the needs of struggling and advanced students. 

 

            Representative Stone thanked the superintendents for their willingness to share the various scenarios that are involved in creating a school calendar that meets the academic needs while ensuring safety of students.  He said he is also aware of the many other factors superintendents must consider when developing their calendars. 

 

            Representative Edmonds said he is aware that Lee County and other counties are now being penalized simply because they did not use banked days in previous years. 

 

            Senator McGaha asked if it would be helpful if the statute only required a minimum number of hours instead of also requiring a minimum number of days.  Ms. Craft said it would be helpful, although it would be important that the number of days that classified employees must work to meet retirement guidelines be taken into consideration.  Commissioner Holliday offered to obtain more information on the concept.  Mr. Treece said that legislation was filed in the last session which would have provided more flexibility to the districts without obtaining departmental waivers and approvals but no action was taken by the legislature.  Senator McGaha said each district knows their particular needs and capability of making up missed days and flexibility would be advantageous in planning.

 

            There being no further business to discuss, the meeting adjourned at Noon.