Md. education board backs plan to extend school year by 20 days

September 26, 1990|By Will Englund

The languid days of a childhood summer would be cut by nearly a month under a plan to extend the school year that was approved yesterday by the Maryland State Board of Education.

Prompted by a belief that students lose too much of their learning between June and September, the board decided to seek a law increasing the number of annual school days from 180 to 200, phased in over four years beginning in 1993.

But the law would likely cost the state more than $10 million for each day added, and school systems would have to pay varying amounts on top of that. In Baltimore, the price tag would be $35.2 million, counting state and local funds, officials say. Prince George's officials say it would cost a total of $19 million to run the county's schools an extra 20 days.

"I think most legislators will not look favorably on it," Delegate Anne S. Perkins, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, said yesterday.

Education in Maryland has other needs that are more pressing, she said. And she pointed out that Gov. William Donald Schaefer told an education conference just last Saturday that the state is unlikely to have much new money to spend on schools anyway.

"Need we go further than that?" she asked.

But the governor's aides were more equivocal -- they said Mr. Schaefer favors more class time for children -- and one member of the state board, Donald P. Hutchinson, said he firmly believes that a longer school year is necessary.

Not only do students waste a month every fall relearning what they were taught the previous spring, he said, but the greater demands being placed on students simply require more time in school.

Although the lengthened school year by itself is as expensive as all the other education reforms that have been approved by the state board this year, "this is not a strategy or a give-and-take with the legislature," Mr. Hutchinson said. The state board, he said, was properly laying out what it believes is necessary to improve education.

But not all his colleagues went along. Three among them, including Robert C. Embry Jr., the board president, voted against the lengthened school year.

Mr. Embry said he believed the board action violated the spirit of the reforms being put in place by the state. A landmark report on education by what came to be known as the Sondheim Commission said the state should measure whether students are learning but leave itto the districts to decide how to teach them.

A state requirement mandating a 200-day year, Mr. Embry said, "limits the discretion of the local school systems as to how they will spend their funds."

The Baltimore school system had been pushing for a longer day rather than a longer year, arguing that students would receive more class time at less cost. An extended year would require major expenditures on additional Mass Transit Administration bus service, on contractual cleaning services and on food services -- costs that the system would not have to face with a longer day, a spokesman, Douglas J. Neilson, said. A

longer day probably would mean a less expensive increase in teachers' pay, as well, he said.

Judith Sachwald, Governor Schaefer's education aide, said the governor also has been interested in an extended day. One way or another, he favors more class time, she said. "We're asking schools and kids to do a lot more, and obviously they need more time," she said.

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