Schools allowed to change days, hours

Several school system are said to be analyzing their options, and officials in one small system in rural North Georgia said Thursday that they're ready to move away from the traditional 180-day school calendar this fall.

The Murray County School System in Chatsworth is going to a 160-day school year that starts after Labor Day and ends before Memorial Day, but with longer days in between.

The change -- which extends the school day by an hour for elementary school pupils and 30 minutes for older students -- could save $124,000 this year, said Dean Donehoo, the school system's director of administrative services.

"We're a relatively rural county, and we've been forced to look at every possible way we can save money," he said.

Most of the savings will be realized by reducing the number of days that diesel-guzzling school buses are on the road and by saving on air conditioning in August, typically the month when school systems see their highest utility bills, Donehoo said.

The school system, which has about 8,000 students, will see how it works, he said. "If it has any negative impact on student performance, it's out the window," Donehoo said.

The General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year giving school systems the option to deviate from the 180-day calendar, provided there's no reduction in instructional time.

The state Board of Education on Thursday initiated some rule changes to bring their policies in line with the new law.

State Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), who sponsored the legislation, said school systems across the state appear eager to investigate their options.

"The feedback we've gotten is: Thank you for the flexibility to develop [the school calendar] around our communities," Graves said.

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, said school systems seemed most interested in having the ability to adjust their school calendars when gasoline topped $4 a gallon.

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