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March 18, 2015

MCPS requests snow day waiver

by James Sleigh, Online Sports Editor
On March 17, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) sent a request to the Maryland State Board of Education, the governing body that determines the length of the school year, asking for the school year not to be extended due to snow days. The request asked to keep June 12, 2015 as the final school day for students.

Maryland State Board of Education requires that students must be in school for at least 180 days of the school year. However, Montgomery County officials cited budget concerns about keeping schools open for longer than planned. The 180-day mandate, which would require an additional three days of school due to snow days, would be too much of a financial burden, according to the open letter sent by Interim MCPS Superintendent Larry Bowers, costing the county between $1.7 to $2 million.

Bowers said that the high costs would result in the county dipping into reserve funds. "These funds will likely come out of our budget reserve, which we are currently building up to help fund the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Given our current financial situation, I believe it is prudent to request a waiver of the three days," he said. Bowers also said that additional charges, such as utility and snow removal costs, were not factored into the estimate given.

County officials tried to replace March 27, originally a day off for students, with an instructional day to demonstrate to the Maryland State Board of Education that they had made an effort to extend the school year. "I worked with our employee associations to assess the possibility of holding classes on Friday, March 27, 2015, which is currently a day off," said Bowers. The compromise also designated March 30 as a half day, to accommodate for teacher grading.

Because the next meeting held by the Board of Education was on March 24, there was not enough time for the Board to give a verdict on the status of March 27. "Since we will not know the outcome of our waiver request until at least March 24, holding school on March 27 is not a feasible option," said Bowers.

Faced with similar circumstances after a snow-heavy 2014, Maryland State Board of Education Superintendent Lillian Lowery denied Montgomery County's requested waiver. "Your request does not demonstrate an effort to modify the school calendar to make up for lost instructional time," said Lowery in March of 2014. Although there were eleven snow days in 2014, as opposed to seven this season, the Board of Education will have to decide whether to uphold the 180-day mandate.
The county is prepared to extend the school year if Lowery rejects the waiver. "It is my hope that Dr. Lowery will grant our request. However, if she does not, we will follow the contingency calendar and add three days to the end of the school year," said Bowers.

Junior Charlie Waltz-Chesnaye said that extending the school calendar will not help him make up for lost instructional time, due to his heavy load of Advanced Placement (AP) classes. "I think that AP teachers can compress lesson times, just as long as the kids can handle it. Especially with the AP tests in May, extending the school year at the end of the year won’t change anything," he said.



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