Study of year-round schooling pursued

January 19, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Despite resounding opposition to year-round schooling in a recent survey, the Howard County school board is pressing ahead with a proposal for state funding to explore the idea.

"We need some strategic planning, and we need to have an alternative just in case our primary plan [to build schools] doesn't follow through," Dana Hanna, the school board chairman, said yesterday.

His comments followed a survey of 635 county residents that found 45 percent opposing year-round schooling, which supporters say is a way to cope with rising enrollments without building new schools.

The board voted last week to seek state funding for a committee to develop a customized year-round education plan for the county. School officials will recommend to the board by March 1995 whether to start year-round education.

But some parents are calling on school officials to present the other side of year-round schooling.

"We've heard nothing about the disadvantages of year-round schools," said Wayne Gold, a parent and a member of a 10-person task force looking at year-round education. "I don't want to make a decision based on hearing one side. I think that's silly. If you hide negatives, it's going to boomerang."

The survey on year-round schooling, which was released at last week's school board meeting, was conducted during a four-day period in December by Columbia-based Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. The poll has a 4 percent margin of error.

The study found that county residents largely oppose year-round schooling, but that many would consider it as an alternative to increased taxes or larger class sizes.

Under year-round schooling, students would attend school throughout the year with a shorter summer vacation and with periodic breaks of three to four weeks.

"Residents are opposed to year-round education at this time," said pollster Brad Coker. "But there is evidence they could support it if a strong case was made."

Among people with children in public schools and those with young children likely to attend within five years, 52 percent said they would not choose year-round schools for their children, while 28 percent said they would.

More than 60 percent of those polled were afraid that a change in the school calendar would force siblings to attend school at different times, and 53 percent said it would cause problems for families with two working parents.

Opposition was most intense in the western part of the county, where 60 percent were against the idea, and in Elkridge and Laurel, where 54 percent were opposed.

In Columbia, however, just 35 percent of those polled and 37 percent of those with no children in school opposed year-round schooling.

Opposition also was lower among women, 39 percent of whom were against the idea, compared with 52 percent of men.

Thirty-five percent of those polled said that year-round schools would improve the quality of education, and 33 percent said they would support the change if it would eliminate the need to redistrict.

In addition, 48 percent said that year-round schools would not save money in the long run. The school system's current 10-year building plan would cost more than $300 million.

School board members said they expected the generally negative results.

"I don't think there were any great surprises," Mr. Hanna said. "We were aware there was a fairly substantial [portion] of the community with a negative view on year-round schools."

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