All-year school idea pushed Schaefer plans statewide parley for November

September 14, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Moving fast on his proposal to convert at least some Maryland schools to year-round schedules by next fall, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he plans to hold a statewide conference on the topic in November.

The governor also said he wants counties interested in testing the idea to submit proposals by January. And he promised to provide incentive funds -- although he did not say how much -- to help three to five school systems implement pilot programs.

Mr. Schaefer first announced his desire to spread the 180-day school year over 12 months instead of the traditional 10 at last month's Maryland Association of Counties meeting in Ocean City. Then he pushed the idea with local school superintendents at a private dinner at the governor's mansion two weeks ago.

Now he says he wants to bring together elected officials, teachers, school administrators, students, parents, business people and other interested citizens for an all-day discussion of how such a program might work and what obstacles need to be overcome.

A date and location for the conference have not been set. Dr. Yale Stenzler, who heads the state's public school construction program, said that it probably will be held in the second or third week of November. Applications for pilot programs would probably be due 60 days later.

The governor also has directed his staff to draft legislation necessary to permit a year-round school calendar. State law now limits the school year to 10 months.

Mr. Schaefer is casting his proposal primarily as a better way of using buildings, especially in light of projections that say the number of public school students in Maryland will increase by 15 percent over the next 10 years to nearly 850,000.

Howard County alone, he said, is expected to see a 38 percent jump in enrollment by 2002, while other once-rural counties that are rapidly becoming suburbanized -- Calvert, Charles, Frederick and Queen Anne's -- are expected to register increases of 25 percent or more. Twenty of the state's 24 public school systems are expected to experience a growth in the next decade.

"State and local governments will have great difficulty building our way out of the school overcrowding problem and still have the funds to renovate our older school buildings," Mr. Schaefer said in a statement.

The governor and educators alike also say that students would retain more of what they have learned if their vacation breaks were shorter. Instead of receiving a 10-week summer vacation, students would be given time off in smaller blocks throughout the school year.

But school systems that have considered the idea in the past have found it is often unpopular with parents, who argue that the shorter breaks and staggered school year could disrupt students' summer employment or vacation plans.

"If they are representing their communities, many [local school boards] will be opposed," predicted Susan Buswell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. "This is not a new idea, and when it has been discussed in the past, communities aren't as supportive as they might become."

She said the problems are many: What will systems do about contractual arrangements with teachers and staff? How will the pilot schools be selected? Will there be an option for students who don't want to participate to attend school elsewhere? If so, who will pay their transportation costs?

Ms. Buswell also said that the time-frame of having proposals submitted by January and starting the pilot programs by the fall of 1994 "sounds pretty quick." But Kent County School Superintendent James J. Lupis Jr., president-elect of the Public Schools Superintendents Association, said that schools that already have studied the year-round concept could probably comply.

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