Extra school days: Some A's, some F's

September 27, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff Reporters Monica Norton, Bruce Reid, Kevin Thomas and Norris West contributed to this story.

Parents' groups, local school authorities and teachers unions give mixed grades to a proposed 20-day extension of the school year by 1995.

Some voice qualified support for the 200-day school year proposed by the State Board of Education on Tuesday, saying students could benefit from the extra class time.

But a number of others doubt that the state and local jurisdictions can afford the proposal's $357.4 million price tag.

Still others question whether schools can do a better job simply by keeping students in school a month longer each year.

Their concerns suggest that the plan could face tough sailing if and when it reaches this year's General Assembly for approval.

"Nobody's demonstrated to me that there's a material benefit to it, and the cost is very substantial," said Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Given the state's tight financial picture, Ryan said, "we don't have the excess resources to plow into something like that."

No state in the nation now requires 200 days of school attendance each year. Most states, including Maryland, require just 180 days. Ohio has the longest school year, at 182 days; Minnesota the shortest, at 170 days.

The state board is proposing a four-year phase-in of the longer school year, starting in 1992. The board also will seek legislation to help pay for the extra 20 days, estimated to cost the state $53.3 million in the first year alone.

But local jurisdictions still would be forced to pick up much of the tab, particularly in such areas as teachers' salaries, transportation, utilities and supplies.

In Baltimore, for example, officials estimate that a 200-day school year would cost the city an additional $35.2 million.

"We don't have enough money to fund 180 days in Baltimore, so I don't know how we're going to finance an additional 20 days," said school Superintendent Richard C. Hunter. "It will put a tremendous burden on our school district."

Hunter said his administration would have preferred a longer school day -- a proposal the state board considered and rejected.

Though the board has recommended some state funding for a longer school year, "we just don't have the resources available to pay our share of the cost," said Hunter.

Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-City, questioned whether a longer school year would, by itself, improve instruction.

"Why are we going to spend more money trying to expand the school year when we have a lot of kids who aren't even going to school?" asked Cummings.

He suggested that the money could be better spent on existing programs that have been proven to work, such as Head Start and dropout intervention.

Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she opposes the plan without substantial funding and major changes in the existing education program.

"We are not able to pay to educate our kids for the 180 days now," she said. "Adding 20 more days for which Baltimore has to pay 5,000 some-odd teachers is not the answer for us."

That same worry surfaces in Baltimore County, according to Carmela Veit, president of the 56,000-member PTA Council.

"It's going to be very difficult to convince the ordinary person that this is a good idea without some major funding accompanying it," she said. Veit cautioned that "there is no extra money hanging around . . . for education."

In Anne Arundel County, officials were cautious about the state board's action.

Nancy Gist, president od the school board, said she can understand the rationale for wanting a longer school year, but warned "you can't ignore the fiscal point."

Thomas Paolino, president of Anne Arundel's teachers association, questioned notonly where the money would come from, but the wisdom of forcing students to attend school during the hot summer months.

He noted that about half the county's schools are not air-conditioned.

"There may seem to be educational advantages to having a longer school year, but I don't see a lot of education taking place in a classroom where the temperature is 100 degrees," Paolino said.

But, he said, the proposal puts the public on notice that school reform will require sacrifice.

"Yes, education is expensive," Paolino said. "But what are the alternatives, ignorance?

Likewise, Carroll County school Superintendent Edward Shilling called the state board's actions laudable.

"Everybody's got to get into the discussion and decide what they are willing to do," he said. "And, that doesn't just mean parents and teachers, that also means the business community."

Shilling said that Carroll officials are evaluating the costs of an expanded school year and plan a public hearing on the issue before stating a position.

Michael Hickey, superintendent of Howard County schools, said the proposal had "a lot of merit." Howard recently dropped plans to make radical changes to the school calendar, but is discussing adding a seventh class period in all its schools.

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