After The Board of Education tabled discussion regarding the 2012/2013 school calendar and a weather waiver request due to concern about the accuracy of the data last month, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman reevaluated the data and made corrections for the second time.
The accuracy of the school district’s data for the past ten years came in to question last year after a new law went into effect changing the way the days missed due to weather problems were reported to the state.
According to Andrew Cox, of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI), a recent law, which was retroactively applied to the past 10 years for districts across the state, allowed delays and half days to be counted toward days missed during a school year.
Originally, the law stated that in order to be eligible for the weather waiver, a school district had to miss eight calendar days in any four of the last 10 years because of severe weather conditions, energy shortages, power failure or emergency situations.
Under that law, Macon County schools missed 13 days during the 2010-2011 academic year, but before that, the most school days missed in a year was five (2008-2009), which is why the county has not previously qualified for the waiver.
In June of 2010, the State Board of Education approved an amendment to the law which states: “Schools in any local school administrative unit in county have been closed for all or part of eight days per year during any four of the last 10 years because of severe weather conditions. For purposes of this subdivision, a school shall be deemed to be closed for part of a day if it is closed for two or more hours.”
According to Dr. Brigman, he noticed a discrepancy in the school district's records and the numbers reported in DPI's website. Brigman notified Cox of DPI’s error and informed him and the members of the Board of Education that he had begun working with Julia Walrdroop to recalculate the data, which revealed in some instances (2009-2010), the district could report up to 36 days in a single calendar year.
During last months' board meeting, board member Jim Breedlove raised questions about the monumental increase in numbers and stated that even if the law was allowed to be implemented retroactively, it seems nearly impossible to go from first reporting two days to now reporting 36 in the same year.
“I just find it hard to believe that we are able to report such a drastic difference,” said Breedlove. “I cannot, in good conscience, vote for something that I have not been able to personally verify. We have a liability here and I would feel more comfortable voting for it after seeing how these numbers were drafted up.”
Board Chairman Tommy Cabe stated that he agreed with Breedlove and felt any vote regarding the calendar or the school waiver should be tabled until the board had the opportunity to review the data. “I agree and I don’t think that it would be a bad idea to hold off and check the numbers,” said Cabe.
Newest change in data
At the request of the school board, Dr. Brigman revisited the numbers and found additional discrepancies between the numbers reflected on the county level and the numbers being reported by DPI.
Brigman explained that in 2009 all of North Carolina was adversely affected by an abnormally severe winter which resulted in DPI being charged with the task of surveying all the counties across the state to determine the number of days missed due to the weather. At the request of DPI, Macon County calculated the school days missed during the 2009-2010 school year. Brigman explained that three different central office employees surveyed the days missed and individually reported the information to DPI. The schools reported the number of actual hours missed because of the weather (which totaled 36) and DPI interpreted it as actual days missed, according to Brigman.
After being asked to check the date by Breedlove, Brigman became aware of the mistake and informed DPI of their error. Dr. Brigman also examined each year dating back to the 2006/2007 school year, which was when he assumed role as Macon County Schools’ Superintendent. “I can only verify the years in which I have worked for Macon County,” said Brigman. I do not know how things were reported before I came, so I can't verify those years.”
The newly corrected data reflects the true number of days missed and according to Cox, even with the change, Macon County will still qualify for the weather waiver.
According to Cox, it is the responsibility of the school district to compile the data needed for the weather waiver, and DPI does not take any action to verify any information they receive from districts within the state. Cox also reported that the only figures DPI has on record are the final numbers for each year, and information regarding the individual days missed would be kept at the respective school district’s office.
Macon County’s board of education decided to table a vote on the weather waiver and next year’s calendar because the proposed calendar’s start and finish dates are contingent upon receiving the weather waiver.
The proposed calendar calls for the first teacher workday to fall on August 2, with students returning to school for the first day on August 6. The last day for students in the proposed calendar would be May 24. North Carolina law mandates that no school is permitted to start school before August 25 without special permission from DPI. This year, Macon County was allowed to implement a non-traditional calendar to allow additional instruction days in order to implement the Fall and Spring intersessions renovations to the school district.