“The calendar committee presented this as an optional way of looking at things,” said Superintendent of Haywood County Schools Dr. Anne Garrett during a Feb. 9 work session.
The law used to stipulate that of the 215 days in each school year’s calendar, “a minimum of 185 days and 1,025 hours of instruction” would take place, but was amended to read “185 days or 1,025 hours.”
That small alteration carries with it big consequences not only for students, but also for teachers and employees.
On the plus side, yearly instruction would be complete by May 14 each year, with testing complete by May 25, allowing students and employees to begin their summer vacations early.
The switch would also allow for around 14 days of “unassigned” time that would provide ample opportunity for students who need remedial instruction to receive it, more time for staff instruction, and insurance against the effects of snow days, which are often made up at the end of the school year.
That flexibility might help schools function more efficiently.
“You would know exactly when the ending date [for the school year] would be,” Garrett said.
But for some — especially bus drivers, cafeteria staff and employees who work as both — the change could mean a big hit in their bank accounts.
On snow days, for example, these workers would lose a day’s pay, which would in theory be made up when the district makes up the snow day later in the school year.
However, the switch to an hourly calendar could mean that these workers never get the chance to make up the day, because the lost time would simply be absorbed by the extra time built in to the hourly calendar.
“There is a possibility that this could happen,” said Garrett.
Haywood County schools have had a hard time of late retaining teachers — in part due to higher available supplement pay in surrounding counties — but support staff like transport and lunchroom workers are what really make the schools tick; without them, everything grinds to a halt.
“They are absolutely critical to any operation, making sure our students get to and from school safely and receive nutritious meals,” said Garrett. “Oh my gosh, we would never be in the top 10 percent [of district performance statewide] without them.”
So much so that the cafeteria manager at Canton Middle School, Sandra Meyers, addressed the board during another meeting on Feb. 13 to “stand up” for her fellow employees.
Meyers said at the outset that she was “very nervous” in speaking to the board, but thought it was important she do so nonetheless, because to lose any one of the five under her supervision would make things difficult for the employees, and the school.
“I have an awesome group of girls, [but] there’s a lot of times I can not get subs,” she said, her voice wavering as she appeared to fight back tears. “I’ve called 15 to 20 people at a time trying to get a sub for a day, and I couldn’t get nobody. My girls would step up and do the work. You can’t always find people like that. You can’t always find good workers to step up and do more than what’s asked of them. And every time I’ve ever asked them, they’re like, ‘Sure, we’ll do whatever we can.’”
Haywood schools have also had a hard time retaining such employees, and the calendar change could make it that much more difficult to attract and retain them in the future.
“Those are always hard positions to find,” Garrett said.
To top it off, the move wouldn’t really save the district any money — although snow days mean the district wouldn’t have to pay bus drivers and cafeteria workers, the district doesn’t earn revenue when students aren’t in session.
The Haywood County School Board plans to take up the calendar issue during its next regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. on March 13 at the Haywood County Education Center in Clyde.
“My position,” Garrett said, “is that I will support whatever it is the board decides.”