When the school year never ends Baltimore Co. weighs pilot program BALTIMORE COUNTY

April 30, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

C Summer school may take on a new meaning for Baltimor County students. It could be just like winter school.

Squeezed by increasing enrollments and decreasing construction funds, the school system is considering a 12-month school year with vacations staggered around the calendar, so that some students would be in school at all times.

But each student would spend the same amount of time in class he does now -- about 180 days.

The school board last night got its first look at the fledgling proposal, which would allow schools to accommodate at least 25 percent more students than they can with a traditional school year.

If the year-round school proposal becomes a reality, it would begin small -- possibly in a few elementary schools as early as July 1994, said James Kraft, the department's capital construction chief and a member of the Committee on Utilizing Buildings All Year.

It would also grow slowly. "I don't envision 95 elementary schools on a year-round education by September 1994 . . . or by the year 2000," he said. "All we're asking the board is to give us its blessing" to continue working and come back next year with a definite pilot proposal.

Board President Rosalie Hellman added: "This will require a great deal of planning and a great deal of community input."

The committee's report acknowledged that most residents don't know much about year-round schools and said the department would need "broad community support" before starting even a pilot program. That support may not come easily. Problems with child care, vacations, summer jobs, summer camp and unbearable heat come quickly to mind.

"The most difficult thing to overcome, of course, is [resistance to] change," said Don Jeffries, a spokesman for the National Association for Year-Round Education and an educator with more than 20 years in 12-month schools.

Mr. Jeffries said in the West, where year-round school is more common, families, child care providers, camp operators and even fast-food restaurants that hire teens have become "very, very flexible."

Mr. Kraft said that Baltimore County pilot programs would undoubtedly be located in areas with overcrowded schools where more growth is expected.

"In an area of four or five elementary schools, one might become a magnet for year-round education," drawing students from several schools, he said. About one-third of the county's 148 schools are air-conditioned, and the pilot schools would probably come from among them.

Year-round calendars can be organized in several ways.

The most popular schedule, Mr. Jeffries said, is something called "60-20," with students in school for 60 days, or 12 weeks, and off for 20 days. These periods are repeated three times during a year, with another four holiday weeks interspersed.

"Almost every school calendar has a three-week vacation [usually for all students] in the summer," said Mr. Jeffries.

Another format, called "45-15," has students in class for 45 school days and off for 15 days.

To make any plan work and maximize use of buildings, Mr. Kraft said, students would be divided into four groups, each one starting school at a different time. Only three of the four groups would be in school at any one time.

This, for example, would allow a school with a capacity of 500 children to accommodate up to 625.

Families would be able to choose their schedules, said Steve Sirkin, a teacher at Old Court Middle School who chairs the year-round study committee.

Year-round school is not without its price.

The committee estimated that it would cost 20 percent more in salaries, transportation and utilities to operate a school for 12 months. That's $428,000 a year for a 500-student elementary school.

In addition, the county would have to spend about $250,000 up front for air conditioning in schools that lack cooling. Although this is far cheaper than building new classrooms, it would still require an expenditure. The real savings, Mr. Sirkin said, would be in ''cost avoidance,'' or not having to build new schools.

Nationwide, about 1.5 million children in more than 2,000 schools -- mostly elementaries -- go to school year-round.

California, Utah, Texas, Florida and Nevada -- states with climates hospitable to off-season vacations -- have the most year-round programs.

Howard County is the only school district in Maryland that has explored the option, but it has not acted on it.

Nationwide, almost half the districts with year-round programs started them to improve education instead of relieving overcrowding, Mr. Jeffries said.

''Mostly they feel it's better academically and gives students and parents more choices,'' he said.

Mr. Sirkin said students won't have to spend as much time reviewing if they've been out only a few weeks instead of months.

What are the chances in Baltimore County?

"I think it's realistic, certainly, that we will get pilots going," Mr. Sirkin said.

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