Another effort to give local school boards control of their own calendars has been snuffed out by a state Senate committee, and the consequences could affect school start dates in Roanoke and Roanoke County.
The Senate Education and Health Committee this morning killed a bill that would allow local school divisions to start the academic year before Labor Day without having to get a waiver from the state. Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Bedford County, sponsored the bill to preserve Roanoke and Roanoke County’s ability to open schools before Labor Day.
“I had expected more support,” Smith said after the committee killed his bill by a vote of 11-4. “I thought we would gain a vote or two this year, but it seems to have gone the other way.”
Other efforts to give schools the ability to open before Labor Day remain alive. A bill similar to Smith’s is moving through the House of Delegates. And Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, who voted against Smith’s bill this morning, said the state budget contains a provision that grandfathers school divisions that now have exemptions. But that grandfather provision only covers the 2012-13 academic year.
Roanoke County has been able to qualify for a weather-related waiver from the state based on the number of school days it accumulated over a period of years. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2011 that allowed Roanoke’s school system to piggyback on Roanoke County’s waiver and begin classes before the September holiday.
But Roanoke County could lose its waiver because it has not accumulated enough snow days in recent years. If Roanoke County loses its exemption, Roanoke’s would be lost , as well, Smith noted.
“We folks in the mountains need the additional week for a multitude of reasons ,” Smith told the committee.
Several educations organizations, including the Virginia Education Association, Virginia School Boards Association, and Virginia Association of School Superintendents, voiced support for Smith’s bill during a rushed hearing that came near the end of a marathon committee meeting.
But representatives of the state’s hospitality and travel industries adamantly objected to the bill, arguing that allowing more pre-Labor Day school starts would hurt the state’s tourism industry. A member of the board of supervisors in Hanover County, home the Kings Dominion amusement park, also voiced opposition to the bill.
– Michael Sluss