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School board, teachers debate school start date

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some Kanawha County teachers say they were "backed into a corner" by the Board of Education to vote for an early start date next school year.That's because under a school calendar proposal that starts students Aug. 18 instead of Aug. 8, employees would have to go longer without a paycheck, according to teachers who voiced their concerns at a Kanawha County school board meeting Thursday evening.Also during the meeting, South Charleston Middle School's mold test results were announced, revealing that the girls' restroom showed high levels of mold growth. Conditions in the restroom were immediately fixed, and other parts of the school affected by water damage will be repaired starting this month, according to Superintendent Ron Duerring.The school board has two main school calendar options before them. One proposal starts students on Aug. 8 -- the earliest start date in Kanawha County history -- and ends May 19. Under that plan, teachers would start Aug. 5.The other, later option is to start students on Aug. 18, with the last day of school scheduled for June 1. Teachers would start Aug. 13 under that proposal.Both calendar proposals include a weeklong Thanksgiving break -- something Kanawha County Schools hasn't implemented in years, with spring break from March 30 to April 3.Another option on the table includes moving the later proposed Monday start date to either Friday, Aug. 15, or Friday, Aug. 22.In an attempt to include teachers' input in designing next year's calendar, Duerring sent an email to faculty members last Friday, informing them there would be a vote taken on Monday. But at that meeting, teachers were informed that the later start date would also mean a later paycheck, which skewed many of the votes, according to Rachel Brown, a teacher at Nitro Elementary School."We know that we're not losing money, but we are losing a paycheck. That gap in time can be difficult for families. ... We have our budgets to plan throughout the month," Brown said at Thursday's meeting. "Teacher morale has been pretty down this week."Brown said that while the faculty senate vote at her school was 22 for an early start and five for the later option, that doesn't necessarily reflect what the teachers want."All of us would really like to have a later date, but we cannot afford to start later if there is that gap between our paychecks," Brown said.
Kanawha County Education Association President Dinah Adkins said teachers were not given proper notice of Monday's vote, and said that after years of asking for teacher input to be considered in the calendar process, the school board has failed."Some [teachers] held strong and said they would not vote for an early start no matter what ... but many voted for something they did not want," Adkins said. "So what you actually have now is not a vote [that's] best for employees and students. You have a vote based on when employees want to be paid. Academics has been completely eliminated from the equation."While school board members did not weigh in on which calendar they planned to vote on, many agreed whatever the choice, it will stick for a few years.
"We're not going through this every year," school board member Becky Jordon said.Thursday's meeting served as the first of two public meetings that school districts are now required by the state Department of Education to hold when choosing a school calendar.The Kanawha County Board of Education will address the school calendar again at next month's meeting, scheduled for Nov. 21.Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-4814.  
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