Students might not make up days missed for weather

Published 12:05 pm Friday, February 18, 2011

Three extra days might be added to the current school year for Vicksburg Warren School District students, but the step will not be necessary if a bill passed by both houses of the Mississippi Legislature is signed by Gov. Haley Barbour.

House Bill 1156 exempts school districts that have canceled school due to extreme weather conditions from the requirement to keep schools in session for 180 days. The districts will still receive per-pupil expenditure payments.

“If the governor signs this bill, I will send a letter requesting that we be waived from that (180-day requirement),” Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford said at Thursday night’s meeting of the Board of Trustees.

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The board also adopted a contingency plan extending the school year to May 25 in case Barbour does not sign the legislation. The extension would make up the three school days canceled in January and February due to snow and sleet, making bus travel hazardous. District policy is to add required attendance days at the end of the normal calendar to complete the 180 days of instruction the state sets as a minimum.

Swinford told the board that the bill, which the House adopted Feb. 10, passed the Mississippi Senate Thursday and went to Barbour for his signature.

The original calendar calls for the school year to end on May 20.

“I am not going to criticize it,” Swinford said after the meeting, when asked about the state suspending the 180-school day requirement even as many schools and districts, including Vicksburg Warren, struggle with below-par test scores and student achievement.

The “instructional value” of adding three days at the end of May is questionable, she said, when students already have completed state-mandated tests, signalling that learning for the year is over.

“What instructional purpose does it serve?” Swinford asked. “I would prefer them to consider adding time to the school day before the tests are given when it would be more valuable.”

The board also adopted the calendar for the 2011-2012 year, which sets the first day of school as Aug. 8 and the last day as May 24, 2012.

Student holidays include Labor Day, Sept. 5; Columbus Day/fall break, Oct. 10-11; Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11; Thanksgiving, Nov. 21-25; Christmas, Dec. 21-Jan. 4; Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16; Presidents’ Day, Feb. 20, 2012; spring break, March 12-16, 2012; and Good Friday/Easter, April 6-9, 2012.

Graduation dates are May 24, 2012, for Vicksburg High School and May 25, 2012, for Warren Central High School.

The board also approved spending $440,998.56 to purchase buses and other vehicles to be delivered in time for the 2011-12 school year. Approved were:

• Five regular-education buses, with a capacity for 71 passengers, at $74,000 each;

• One crew cab truck for $20,853.56;

• One 1/2 ton truck for $14,787;

• One 1/2 ton cargo van for $16,638; and

• Two Scag zero-turn mowers for $9,360 each.

Purchase funds will come from Mississippi Education Enhancement Funds designated for bus purchases and district maintenance funds, the board was told.

Transportation manager David Keen told board members that many buses in the district’s fleet date to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Swinford said she hopes at least 10 more can be purchased in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

District 3 trustee James Stirgus Jr. registered a dissenting vote to a number of agenda items the board voted on as a package, including the calendar and bus purchase items.