The Harford school system held its first meeting Monday on year-round schools and got a mixed response from the audience.
Several parents and some teachers who attended the discussion said a year-round school calendar would not work in Harford because three-week vacations would fall during the winter months. Others thought the winter breaks were a good idea.
About 200 people came to Southampton Middle School in Bel Air to hear L. Dianne Locker, supervisor of the year-round school program in Orange County, Fla., talk about the concept.
lTC Students in year-round schools attend school for 180 days in cycles of 12 weeks followed by a three-week vacation, Ms. Locker said. A year-round elementary, which has five staggered starting and ending dates for students, can handle as many as 20 percent more students because one group of children is always on vacation, she said.
Such a program saves money because fewer new schools have to be built, Ms. Locker said. Four year-round schools can handle as many students as five regular schools, she said.
But several parents said that was not a good enough reason. They said they were "exhausted" after taking care of their children this winter during the 15 snow days.
"I don't see any kind of advantage in being off for three weeks in February," said Mary Frances Tracy of Jarrettsville. "What kind of vacation is that?"
Ms. Locker said year-round education will not work for everyone.
"It changes your lifestyle; it will change the way you schedule child care and how you take vacations," she said.
Ron Eaton, vice president of the Harford school board, said there are no plans to convert to a year-round schedule. But he said it was important to learn about it now because it could be mandated by the state in the future.
Last month, Gov. William Donald Schaefer awarded $400,000 to six school systems to develop year-round school programs: Baltimore City and Allegany, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Howard and Montgomery counties.
Ms. Locker said Orange County, which has 115,000 students in 147 schools, saved $63 million by going to a year-round calendar.
"We had planned to build 12 elementary schools at $7 million each by 1995 but were able to cut that number by nine," she said.
Year-round schools do not create smaller classrooms, but they do take the pressure off the common areas, such as cafeterias, media centers and gyms, she said.
A school can always create more classroom space by adding portable classrooms or increasing class sizes. But a school can't increase the size of its cafeteria, media center or gym without a major renovation or addition, she said.
Harford County plans to build five elementary schools, each with a capacity of 600 students and each costing $6 million, by 1999, said Donald R. Morrison, school spokesman. He said he did not know whether any of these schools could be eliminated by switching to a year-round calendar.
Harford has 18,000 elementary-age children and expects that number to grow to 22,000 over the next five years. The total school population is 35,000 and is expected to increase to 41,000 by 1999. The county has 47 schools.
To make year-round school work in the county's 28 elementary schools, Harford would have to install air conditioning in 15 of the buildings.
Orange County will add its first middle school to the year-round schedule in the fall. There are no plans to add high schools to the program because they are already filled during the summer months with classes such as remedial math, Ms. Locker said.
Other year-round schools, mostly elementary schools, are in Texas, Utah and California. Ms. Locker said those states have no plans to switch back to a regular school year.
Shirley Doud of Jarrettsville wanted to know how snow days are made up in a year-round calendar.
Ms. Locker said that could be difficult because extending school days could mean that all of the school's children could be in the school.
"That would be a problem. Only 80 percent of them would have a room. This is the time teachers do field trips or have students attend school on Saturday," she said.
Mrs. Doud, who said she had come to the meeting prepared to hate the concept of year-round schools, said the prospect of three-week vacations at even intervals throughout the year -- instead of the entire summer -- was a selling point.
"I like the idea of being able to plan trips during different times," Mrs. Doud said. "I'd like to be able to take a vacation in the winter, like go to Walt Disney World, without having to take my children out of school."
But Karen Hamilton, an Edgewood Middle School teacher, said she did not want to work in a year-round school because she said she enjoys her summer-long vacation with her children.
Ms. Locker said teachers in Orange County liked year-round schools because students forgot less over a three-week vacation than during a long summer vacation.
Teachers in a year-round school work the same number of days and earn the same pay as teachers in regular schools. Ms. Locker said teachers can "moonlight" for the school system during their three-week vacations as substitutes or teach additional classes.