Education panel amends bill requiring schools to sync calendars

Posted March 19, 2012, at 6:14 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Proposed legislation seeking to coordinate school calendars between school districts that share a career and technical education center, or CTEC, was amended Monday to give districts more time to implement the changes needed if the bill passes.

The amendment to LD 1865, An Act to Enhance CTEC, was made during a work session with the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. It was sponsored by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth.

As part of the legislation, districts sharing a center would have to develop a common school calendar with no more than five dissimilar days. The current limit is nine days.

All of the schools sending students to a center would have to be in or out of session at the same time except for five days. If one school is out of session and the other sending schools are not, that counts as one dissimilar day. If another sending school has another day off and the other sending schools do not, that counts as a second day.

Because of scheduling issues with potato harvest breaks, the proposal has raised concerns among some schools in Aroostook County.

SAD 29 in Houlton and SAD 70 in Hodgdon are part of the Region Two School of Applied Technology, along with SAD 14 in Danforth and RSU 50 in Stacyville. The Houlton and Hodgdon districts customarily take a week off for harvest break, but the others remain in session. Under the existing scenario the schools would reach their limit of dissimilar days very quickly.

In RSU 39 in Caribou, the high school sends some of its students to the Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center. Although all of the sending schools recess for harvest, Fort Fairfield stays out for one week, while the others take two or three weeks.

David Connerty-Marin, director of communications for the Maine Department of Education, said that the proposed measure would reduce the likelihood that scheduling conflicts would interfere with students’ ability to attend technical education classes.

During Monday’s hearing, the issue around harvest break was discussed at length. Rep. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, said he felt that superintendents could comply with the potential law, but he felt that they needed more time to do it.

“I do not think that this can be instituted this coming school year,” he said. “Their calendars are pretty much done. I would like to give schools a waiver for a year to figure this out. I support the five dissimilar days element, but schools and potato growers need more time on this.”

Tim Hobbs, director of development and grower relations for the Maine Potato Board, told the committee that he feels the potato industry is moving away from needing workers to pick their potatoes. With equipment such as harvesters, he said, there are fewer people working.

“But we did an economic impact study about six years ago, and we found that 600 students worked the harvest,” Hobbs said. “Those are big numbers for us. Where do you go to find replacements for them?”

He said that the waiver would give school boards and potato growers time to come up with solutions.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said he feared that it could be difficult to follow the law.

“Are we making sure this fits all of our CTECs?” he asked, pointing out that Portland Arts and Technology High School has 22 sending schools. “What if they can’t get their calendars to a point where they have five dissimilar days?”

The committee said that schools that could not meet the law because of extenuating circumstances could seek a waiver or have their representative propose legislation to assist them.

But committee members were told that a number of schools already had begun aligning calendars and getting under the five-day limit in light of the pending legislation.

If it passes, the measure also would ensure that students receive credit from their home high schools for all courses they take at a career and technical center. Sending schools also would have to ensure that bus schedules and other logistics do not prevent students from being able to participate in the full number of hours of instruction at the centers. Finally, the bill would require the community college system to review courses and award college credit to students who complete college-level work at a technical center.

If the measure passes, the law would take effect during the 2013-2014 school year. If schools do not comply with the law, the state will withhold subsidies until they do. The amendment giving schools more time to adjust their calendars will be analyzed and reviewed before the bill goes on to the full Legislature.

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