Finances Will Prohibit Extended School Year, Keech Says

December 02, 1990|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

For once, the head of county schools agrees with kids who hate school -- neither wants the academic year to last longer that it already does.

At least not right now. Harford County School Superintendent Ray Keech says he opposes a proposal from the state Board of Education that would add 20 days to the school year by September 1995, bringing total school days to 200. The state suggests adding five days each over the next four years, beginning with the 1992-1993 school year.

Keech says he supports the concept of a longer school year but insists other academic matters should have financial priority over lengthening the school year, which would incur salary and other costs.

Traditionally, the school year for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States has lasted about 180 days. But since students in other countries with longer school days, weeks and years perform better on international assessments, the state is asking counties to consider making students attend school a bit longer.

"I support the basic concept of more school days, because the more you practice something, the more proficient you'll be, whether it's playing the trumpet or reading and math," Keech says.

"However, I believe there's a host of things we must examine that would increase our productivity and student outcomes for less money than increased days."

Some of the needs the school superintendent says he believes should have priority over a longer school year:

* Smaller class sizes in the elementary and middle school grades.

* Early childhood programs for all children who may not be ready for school.

* Art education in elementary grades.

* Foreign languages in middle schools.

* More challenging upper-level courses in high schools.

* Staff development to improve performance of personnel.

* Equipment, such as computers, needed to assist teaching.

Keech didn't have a specific projection of how much money the 20 extra days the state has suggested would cost Harford, but he said a longer year "would be far more expensive than any of these other steps we could take.

Megabucks. These other (projects) don't even come close to the money you're talking about by adding days."

The state Board of Education has requested funding from the state legislature and the issue will be debated in the General Assembly session which begins in January.

"I do not believe there is sufficient funding in the state now to be able to accommodate the expense of added days and also reduce class size and these other items," said Keech.

"My position is, let's address these other issues. When we've sufficiently done that, then turn to additional days."

The school superintendent does support two other state proposals to the counties. The recommendations for mandatory kindergarten and extending the mandatory age to attend school to 18 from 16 are "moves in the right direction at minimal cost," he said.

School board president Richard C. Molinaro says the county school board would support Keech's position on all three issues.

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