Year-round schooling gets high marks But educators say plan allows too little time for start-up

August 24, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer Staff writers Ed Brandt, James M. Coram, John W. Frece and Gregory P. Kane contributed to this article.

School officials in Howard and Baltimore counties welcome Gov. William Donald Schaefer's interest in year-round schooling but say his timetable of starting a pilot program a year from now would give them too little time.

School districts in the Baltimore area have studied a year-round calendar, but only in Howard and Baltimore counties do school district officials see it as a way to stem overcrowding and expensive school construction programs.

In West Baltimore, though, one elementary school may turn to a year-round schedule by next July.

Mr. Schaefer first pitched his idea of expanding the school calendar Saturday at the convention of the Maryland Association of Counties. Yesterday, the governor suggested at a news conference that Howard County would be an ideal place for a pilot program because County Executive Charles I. Ecker is a former teacher and school superintendent.

The governor said yesterday that there are always naysayers when new ideas are proposed but that details such as how the vacation rotation would work, how much teachers would be paid and other matters could be worked out.

"Right away, the teachers' union says they need additional compensation," Mr. Schaefer said. "All those things can be worked out. In the long run, school can be utilized better, kids will learn more, in the long run [we] will save money, [and] I think it is progressive thought."

The earliest Howard County will attempt a schedule change is two or three years from now, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said. The county began looking at ways to save on construction costs last year and will hold an October forum to discuss the idea of year-round education.

"I believe educationally there are some advantages to students' not having long vacations," Dr. Hickey said. "There are clearly some gains to be made in construction savings."

Baltimore County's school board gave the go-ahead in April for school officials to continue studying a pilot year-round school program, perhaps starting as early as July 1995.

"I think Governor Schaefer is being fiscally prudent and is asking the same question [Superintendent Stuart] Berger asked us months ago," said James Kraft, manager of capital planning.

The push for year-round schools comes as state government and school officials expect 150,000 additional students to enroll in the state's public schools by 2003. At the same time, many aging and outdated schools will require millions of dollars of renovations.

Last year, more than 1.5 million students in 26 states attended about 2,000 year-round schools -- up from 1,650 year-round schools a year ago and 425 seven years ago, according to the San Diego-based National Association for Year-Round Education.

Year-round schooling does not mean children go to school on holiday breaks or on weekends, or for more than 180 days in a school year. It does mean that the 12-week summer break is shortened and dispersed throughout the year.

A year-round calendar that staggers students' schedules can allow 25 to 33 percent more students to attend a school.

The year-round system requires students and teachers to rotate classrooms every few weeks, but it uses schools efficiently, since students and teachers are there year-round.

Utility and transportation costs are higher in year-round schools, but supporters say such a system saves school districts money because they don't have to spend millions of dollars to build new schools.

Orange County, Fla., for example, saved $63 million by not having to build eight schools. It plans to make all 85 of its elementary schools year-round by 1995.

Howard County

"I'd love to do it -- starting next Monday," said Mr. Ecker, who thinks year-round schooling makes sense educationally and financially. "Students do better; there is increased performance," said.

The county executive said he is aware of some drawbacks, among them child care problems and the fact that families who have children in more than one school might not be assured that the students would be on the same schedule.

The Howard school system had 33,000 students last year and expects enrollment to increase by 1,500 students a year. The system plans to build or renovate about 15 schools in the next 10 years.

"It's going to require a major shift in the way the county does things," said Ellen Rennel, past president of the Howard County PTA Council, which favors studying year-round education.

"It's not just going to be the schools. I don't know if there's going to be enough community support for year-round schools, but that may be because our schedule has been so entrenched in tradition."

Baltimore County

Baltimore County expects an increase of 3,500 students a year and is reopening schools and adding on to others to accommodate growth. The 93,000-student school district needs 15,500 more seats by 2003, said James Kraft, manager of capital planning.

"We just finished a very long summer," he said. "We do have people questioning closing down schools for 10 to 12 weeks."

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