Calendar conundrum: Bladen County Schools talks ending semester before Christmas

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

ELIZABETHTOWN – Ending the first school semester before Christmas break has long been the goal of many educators and parents, but Bladen County’s decision to make the move hinges on an unexpected component – the district’s nutrition program.

“Obviously, the benefit is to end testing before Christmas and not have a two-week lull,” Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor remarked earlier this month at the Board’s May meeting, when staff and board members took up the issue.

Current legislation allows school systems in the Tar Heel State to opt for either 1,025 hours or 185 days of student attendance, and Bladen County Schools participates in the latter. Since North Carolina legislation also mandates public schools may not begin until the Monday closest to Aug. 26, finishing before Christmas break could be accomplished by opting for the 1,025 hours over the 185 days.

Such an option is exercised by numerous districts. Columbus County operates on a 172-day calendar, and Cumberland County has 79 days the first semester and the remainder after Christmas. Green County shares the same mind as Cumberland, as does the Nash/Rocky Mount district.

“We recognize that if we change the calendar to finish the first semester and have to go fewer days, that lengthens the instructional day,” Taylor commented. “For high schools, it’s not so bad … the problem would be if we look at primary schools.”

Students, he said, would be required to have 380 instructional minutes, which doesn’t account for transition times, lunch, and recess.

On the positive side of such a plan would be teacher satisfaction, increased time for professional development, additional time for maintenance, reduced transportation costs, decreased nutrition staff costs, and decreased building costs.

The cons include impact on families having to arrange for additional day care and possible impacts to student learning from the lengthened day — as well as one big one: money. Currently, since Bladen County – due to its poverty – participates in the Community Eligibility Program, the Child Nutrition Program is run, Taylor said, like a business. It is the only division of the school system to do so, and it is actually a money-maker for the system.

“If we reduce the number of days students go to school, those are days that we don’t get revenue,” Taylor informed the Board.

It’s not pocket change, either. The superintendent told the board the net loss could be $300,000.

And that’s only the initial loss. Since food costs are based on the volume of food bought by districts in the state, decreasing the number of days and the resultant number of meals served would ultimately result in financial harm to the systems.

“In a year or so, there would be higher food costs because we don’t have volume,” said Child Nutrition Director Amy Stanley.

“It’s money that put us in this position, that’s unfair to students …” said Board member Roger Carroll. “It’s all about kids, not about money.”

Staff agreed to work up “both calendars” and discuss the matter in the future.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

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Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal