DARKE COUNTY — In an effort to keep things “cool in school,” a Lorain County legislator would like to see Ohio’s public schools start classes later in the fall.
Sen. Gayle Manning (R- North Ridgeville) has introduced Senate Bill 346, which, if enacted, would have public schools begin their school year following Labor Day, effective for the 2017-2018 school year.
“This legislation was introduced because teachers and parents have reached out to my office to share the challenges of teaching in a hot classroom,” said Manning. “Many schools in the State of Ohio are not air conditioned and as such students and teachers suffer through the heat in the buildings on a daily basis.”
When asked how many of Ohio’s public schools are lacking climate controlled conditions, particularly given the state’s efforts to build new schools and renovate existing facilities over nearly two decades, Manning said, “We have tried to research it but could not gather enough information from the 3,800 school buildings to reach a percentage. However, we have received dozens of emails from teachers from across the state sharing their stories about how their classrooms are unbearable during this time of year.”
Rick Savors, media relations manager for the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, said his agency could not provide specifics as to the current number of schools lacking air conditioning, but did note the state has seen to it that all of Ohio’s new schools have been upgraded to include the amenity.
“All of the facilities built or renovated under our programs have both heating and air conditioning systems,” he said. “Since 2000, we have opened 1,129 buildings across the state. We currently have another 80 buildings either under construction or in active design phase.”
Savors added, however, that not every school district in the state has chosen to use the commission’s programs or have become eligible to participate.
The issue of late summer heat does not appear to be a significant problem as it regards Darke County’s schools. First, the county’s schools typically don’t open their doors until the conclusion of the Darke County Fair in late August.
As well, with the exception of Greenville’s elementary and middle school facilities, all other schools in the county already enjoy cool air in September, as all have undergone reconstruction or renovation. Even then, this will change in 2017 as Greenville’s students will enter the district’s new K-8 building, due to be completed in November of this year and then opened for student use in January.
Though SB 346 directs districts to start their school years following Labor Day, the mandate is not iron clad. The bill states, “If a board of education or governing body determines that it is in the best interest of the school, a board or governing body may adopt a resolution that permits a school under its control to open prior to Labor day in any school year.”
It further says, “Not later than thirty days prior to adopting such a resolution, the board of education of a city, exempted village, and local school district shall hold a public hearing on the school calendar, addressing opening a school under its control prior to Labor Day.”
Manning says the opt-out clause in the legislation is necessary, for when it comes to school districts, she says one size does not fit all.
“I understand that each school district is different and unique,” she explained. “As a former school teacher for 37 years, I am a huge supporter of local control, especially when it comes to schools. I do not believe in taking away something that should be up to the local school board and community.”
This should come as welcome news to Darke County’s school district superintendents, who, by and large, don’t want the state to tell them when to convene their school years.
Ansonia Superintendent Jim Atchley said, “I would not be in favor of this bill. Darke County schools typically starts later than most of the surrounding counties already. This should be a local decision not one directed from the state legislature.”
He added, “I think the true reason behind the bill is to promote travel and tourism, not to accommodate students attending schools without air conditioning.”
Arcanum-Butler Superintendent John Stephens concurs regarding keeping control of the start date close to home.
“I am opposed to any legislation that dictates when schools open and when schools close,” he said. “I believe the decision to do so should be a local decision based on the community and school’s needs. Local school boards are more than capable of making those decisions based on any number of reasons.”
“Our K-12 facility is climate controlled,” said Tri-Village Superintendent Josh Sagester. “With that being said, the goal of the district is to get in as many instructional days prior to our state testing period to help ensure student success. In the end, my thoughts are that this should continue to be a local decision.”
Greenville City Schools Superintendent Doug Fries also referred to the amount of days needed to prepare students for state testing.
“The problem is people want to start early to get as many instructional days in before testing. There is an argument both ways if you do not have climate control,” he said.
Sen. Manning, while admitting predicting the weather is a tricky endeavor, says the temperatures at the end of the school year (in the spring) are cooler than at the beginning.
“My office has found that is typically cooler in early to mid-June compared to mid to late-August,” she said. “There’s a chance that it will still be warm in September and October, but statistically it is cooler at the end of school year compared to the beginning of the year.”
Figures provided by usclimatedata.com bear out Manning’s assertion. As it pertains to Darke County in general, and specifically to Greenville, June’s average high temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average low of 60 degrees. August’s average high is 82 degrees, with a low of 60. September averages drop to a high of 77 and a low of 52.
Manning also maintains a late start could be economically beneficial in more than a few ways.
“Since schools are closed all summer, our research has shown that it is cheaper to keep schools cool in the spring than it is begin to cool them down after a long summer without running the air conditioner,” she explained.
One further advantage, according to Manning, is that a later start would allow extra vacation opportunities for families.
“Most people have a limited amount of vacation time. Starting after Labor Day allows for families to possibly take an additional vacation to create wonderful family memories,” she said. “While families take advantage of additional vacation time, it helps generate economic activity, which can create and maintain jobs. This helps provide additional tax revenues for struggling state schools and local programs.”