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Spring Absences Again Prompt Debate Over School Start Dates

 

  'Summer fever' is starting to spread in area schools, leaving empty seats in classrooms, and again sparking debate on whether a 2005 state law barring school districts from starting classes before the fourth Monday in August should be revisited, 1200 WOAI news reports.

 

  May is the worst month of the year for school absences, and smaller districts say they are getting clobbered by the loss of state aid to education, which is distributed based on the number of students present in the classroom  when the first period bell rings.

 

 "Last week it cost me about $150,000," Superintendent Brad Lancaster of the Lake Travis ISD told 1200 WOAI news.  "That's not nothing, I'm looking at a budget deficit last year of about $4 million, and I can't handle more cuts due to a decrease in attendance."

 

  Driven by intense pressure from the tourism industry, the Legislature moved in 2005 to bar districts from starting class too early in the school year.  Lawmakers from tourist-heavy places like South Padre Island complained that the early school start was costing them millions of dollars, largely due to the fact that the students, who staff many summer tourist attractions, had to return to school, in some cases, in the first or second week of August.  In 1999, the San Antonio ISD actually started classes in late July.

 

  But superintendents like Lancaster says with the mandated 180 day school year, plus make up days for bad weather, many school districts now run classes through early June.  Since most colleges dismiss in early to mid May, many families begin their summer activities then, leading to empty seats.

 

  "What I would like to see is to return that decision to the local school board and allow schools to start classes when they want," Lancaster said.

 

  He points out that in the Rio Grande Valley, May temperatures routinely top 100 degrees, forcing districts to spend more money on air conditioning.  In north Texas and in the Panhandle, it is not uncommon for schools to have to make up two weeks worth of classes due to bad weather days missed during the winter, and that pushes the end of classes even later.

 

  Also, in urban areas like San Antonio, when all school districts are dismissing at the same time, it is very difficult to obtain auditorium space to hold commencement ceremonies.  In the Northside and North East ISDs in San Antonio, it is not unusual for there to be three high school graduating ceremonies a day, with ceremonies happening in the middle of the week, when it is inconvenient for family members to attend, and some graduation ceremonies start at 10 or 11 in the morning.

 

 

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