GOP balks at giving more calamity days

First Posted: 2/13/2014

COLUMBUS — House Republicans’ concerns about giving students too many days off and paying school personnel for days not worked stalled a bill yesterday that would give Ohio districts four additional calamity days because of the brutal winter.

Snow and frigid temperatures already have prompted a number of Ohio districts to close for at least nine days this year; that’s the new maximum under the bill, which was scheduled for a vote yesterday but was instead passed over.

“There is a lot of anxiety about spending $700 million in taxpayer money and getting nothing in return,” said Rep. Gerald Stebelton, R-Lancaster, the chairman of the House Education Committee. ” If we don’t make those days up, teachers get paid for nine days they didn’t work. And students don’t get nine days of education.”

While House Democrats appeared ready to support the bill, and unsuccessfully attempted to push a vote on it, Stebelton said several Republicans don’t like it. He expects it will get a vote next week. “School districts need to know what’s going on,” he said.

Based on a survey of 399 Ohio districts, the average district had taken nine calamity days through Friday, according to the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. Most central Ohio districts have called off school six or seven times. Columbus is at eight, while Groveport Madison has canceled 11 times.

Once calamity days are exhausted, the bill gives districts the options of adding days to the end of the school year or trimming spring break. The bill also would allow schools to make up time by lengthening school days by half-hour increments.

Gov. John Kasich has called for more calamity days, and the Senate also wants to move a bill — but Senate Republicans are eyeing a different idea.

When asked about simply granting additional calamity days, Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said: “I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing for the academic issues that we’re talking about. We want kids in school, and we want to give them opportunities to learn.”

School calendars at the beginning of the year include five days that essentially are designated makeup days, in case districts exceed their allotted calamity days.

Faber said that before giving districts more calamity days, Senate Republicans want to see schools use those makeup days by either holding classes on them or lengthening the school day.

The Senate also is looking at excusing seniors from having to attend makeup days that occur after their scheduled graduation ceremony.

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