One highlight of week two in the 2010 regular session was the quick passage in both chambers of the governor's school calendar bill (HB4040).
On Jan. 26, the Senate suspended constitutional rules to take up and pass HB 4040. It passed without amendment and went to the governor, becoming the first bill this session to complete the legislative process, on the 14th day of the 2010 regular session.
My colleagues and I on the Senate Education Committee had considered making a few changes to the bill. However, after some deliberation we decided this was an adequate first step to ensure 180 instructional days for our children.
The bill does two things. It removes provisions in current law that prevents the school year from starting before Aug. 26 or ending after June 8 and it also requires school systems to draw up plans intended to assure they provide 180 instructional days each year, accounting for days when schools are closed because of winter weather or other emergencies.
Let me emphasize that my hope is that this is indeed just a first step. This bill does not go quite as far as we have gone in the past, but the hope is that this fix will allow county officials to schedule school so they can make up snow days if necessary.
The strength of the bill is that it allows school boards to adapt school calendars to meet local needs with regard to weather or other matters. However, the bill leaves untouched and inflexible areas of current law that may make it a challenge for certain counties to reach 180 days.
The bill, for instance, does nothing to change the way teachers and especially school service personnel are contracted. Most teachers are on 200-day contracts. If school is called off on a day they were scheduled to work, they are paid for that day and it is considered a contract day.
Although the bill does makes counties come up with a weather plan to ensure 180 days of instruction, it does not change the way contracts are written.
Likewise, most school service personnel, including bus drivers, have 200-day contracts. Unlike teacher contracts, all service personnel contract days must fall within a 43-week period, according to current law. This legislation does nothing to change this.
The current Aug. 26-June 8 school year provides for an average 41.5-week year for service personnel, according to state Department of Education data.
By opening the year up to the maximum of 43 weeks, county officials could give themselves an extra seven days to work with, which would allow nearly every county in the state to hold 180 days of class.
Other discrepancies exist as well. Under current law, if a school system is on a two-hour delay because of weather, then releases students two hours early because of worsening conditions, it still counts as a full instructional day - even though students would have been in class for only two hours.
As you can see this bill does not have an answer for everything but I believe it is a step in the right direction and that county officials will do well with the flexibility they have been given to tackle these issues.
I believe the Legislature must continue to work to improve standards for classroom instruction on many levels. It is not just about the number of instructional days. There is simply no magic number of days that ensures a quality education.
We as lawmakers must be vigilant in keeping our fingers on the pulse of the state's public school system to ensure that our students receive a top-notch education from highly skilled educators that allows them to compete and prosper as they continue their education and enter the workforce.
The West Virginia Legislature has both Facebook and Twitter accounts that are updated constantly throughout the legislative session. We work hard to find new and innovative ways to be transparent as we do our work. I hope that you will take advantage of these exciting new ways to follow our progress on a daily, hourly and sometimes minute-to-minute basis.
I encourage you to tell me what you think about this or any other issue affecting our state and our district. You can write to me at: Clark S. Barnes, State Senate, West Wing, Room 203, State Capitol Building, Charleston, W.Va. 25305. You can contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call my Charleston office at 304-357-7973.
(Editor's note: Barnes is a state senator who represents the 15th District.)