State board endorses longer school year Lawmakers to be asked to add 20 days by 1995

September 26, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

The Maryland Board of Education is calling for a mandatory school year of 200 days by the 1995-1996 school year, an increase of 20 days in the current state requirement.

By a 6-3 vote, the state board yesterday recommended legislation in next year's General Assembly that would add five days to the school year every year over a four-year period.

It also recommended increased state education funding to help pay for the plan. The longer school year would cost the state an additional $53.3 million in the initial 1992-1993 school year and even more in later years.

However, that estimate does not include money that local jurisdictions would have to spend to comply with the plan. All told, the plan could cost $357.4 million annually, according to an estimate made at the time it was proposed.

The board's recommendations now go to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who must decide whether to include them in his 1991 legislative package. They would require General Assembly action.

The longer school year, along with extending mandatory school attendance to age 18, was part of an extensive educational reform package proposed earlier this year by Joseph L. Shilling, state school superintendent.

Schaefer voiced general support for Shilling's package when it was proposed. But the 200-day school year plan comes at a time when the administration is reviewing belt-tightening at all state agencies in anticipation of a $150 million state budget shortfall in fiscal year 1991.

Commenting on the plan yesterday, Shilling said a longer school year is needed because of the increased amount of material that schools must cover.

"We simply can't get done all that needs to be done today in the same time we did in 1950," he said.

Shilling said local jurisdictions would decide how to put the plan into effect. Options could include starting school earlier in the year or ending it later.

The proposal drew opposition from some on the board, however, including Chairman Robert C. Embry Jr.

"Just prescribing extra time doesn't mean it's going to be used effectively," he said after the vote.

Embry also said that mandating a longer school year "limits the discretion of the local school system as to how they're going to spend their dollars."

For example, he estimated that the proposal would cost one jurisdiction, Prince George's County, some $19 million in local funds.

Embry said, however, that he would support the board's recommendation if it goes before the state legislature.

Jane Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said her group would oppose an extended school year.

"We feel that 20 days of 'more-of-the-same' will not improve education," she said. "We feel the schools are already crowd control scenes, using a factory system to control students."

Stern said the money for a longer school year could be better spent to reduce the student-teacher ratio in the schools.

She also warned that a longer school day would have to be negotiated with teachers' unions, and said the plan is unlikely to pass, given the state's impending budget problems.

Joseph Lee Smith, president of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, who supported an alternative plan calling instead for a longer school day, voiced concern over who would pay for the extended school year.

"A longer school day would have been more valuable, but we'll see," he said.

In proposing the longer school year, the board rejected the alternative plan, which would have lengthened the minimum school day to 7 1/2 hours statewide. Such a move, which would have cost the state an estimated $187.4 million, would not have required legislation.

Current state board bylaws specify a minimum six-hour school day for elementary and middle school students, and an hour longer for high school students.

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