NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Schools’ calendar committee is moving forward with plans to propose an earlier start to the school year in 2020.
The committee wants to simplify this year’s calendar in several ways: by consolidating the current nine school district calendars in the county down to a proposed six and by creating a calendar that would provide students with a first semester ending before the winter break and a second semester starting in January and ending before Memorial Day.
State school calendar law requires a “start date no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11 (unless a weather related calendar waiver has been approved, year-round school, charter school or cooperative innovative high school.)”
The proposed start date for 2020 is August 11.
“This is technically a year-round calendar. It has an intercession. It has a designated workday in every single month, so by law, this is a year-round calendar. This opens up a lot of flexibility for New Hanover County. In the areas of inclement weather, we have more teacher workdays built in so if there is a hurricane, if there is a winter event, we’re going to be able to move the calendar around much more easily than previous allowed for,” Board of Education member Nelson Beaulieu said.
Beaulieu says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I get asked all the time ‘is this really going to happen? Thank you so much!’ people really want this change and I think it’s such a good thing for our families, for our teachers... I think everybody feels like this is the best way to educate students,” Beaulieu said.
“We know that our state and local taxes help fund the local school system, so if you start cutting into those visitor dollars, you’re going to cut into our tax receipts as well which could have an effect on the school systems themselves,” said TDA President/CEO Kim Hufham on Wednesday. “We don’t want it to be seen as tourism versus education, that’s not what its about, but its about an economy that’s very important to New Hanover County and that we want to continue to see grow but of course we also want our educational system set up so that our students thrive as well.”
In an email sent to Beaulieu and all Board of Education members Thursday afternoon, Hufham said, in part:
“The current summer calendar law has strengthened tourism in New Hanover County. August is currently our third biggest month for Room Occupancy Tax collections; July holds the number 1 spot and June weighs in as number 2, with August a close third. Prior to passing Save Our Summers legislation, August trailed May. Starting school at the end of August extended our vacation season and literally saved our summers. In August 2019, Room Occupancy Tax Collections in New Hanover County totaled $1,993,144.”
Hufham also expressed concerns about the message this change would send to the rest of the state.
“While visitors to our destination typically live outside the county, it is our concern that if New Hanover County (an established travel destination) attempts to change its school calendar, that state legislators might interpret that as a signal to appeal the statewide law. Over 65% of our visitors come from within the state of North Carolina and changing the school start date in our in-state feeder markets would greatly impact our county,” she wrote.
Beaulieu says he was elected to do what is in the best interest of students and families.
“I definitely understand and sympathize with the needs of the tourism industry. It’s important to our county but when you sit on the Board of Education and you’ve been given that type of responsibility, I see these as students first and employees second, if at all. It’s really difficult for a member of the board to come down and say ‘we need them at work’-- they’re supposed to be in school, this is the absolute best thing for them. This gives them the opportunity to take early college, alleviate college debt down the road, take a career pathway, take some welding programs, take some different programs, this allows them to do that so much easier. It’s the best thing for them,” Beaulieu said.
“Other counties across the state have done this. I think New Hanover County would be the largest county to go this route, but this is the calendar flexibility that I think every local school board really needs,”Beaulieu said.
Deputy Superintendent LaChawn Smith will make the calendar committee’s recommendation to the Board of Education during its regular meeting on Tuesday, November 5. The board has the final say on whether or not to adopt the calendar.