The threat of year-round schools Howard's report: An experiment in education -- or just a form of political extortion?

November 02, 1995

EDUCATION OFFICIALS studying year-round schooling in Howard County have revealed it for what it is: not an experiment, but a form of political extortion.

It's another ugly alternative for officials to dangle over the heads of county officials and say, "If you don't give more money for school construction, you'll get year-round schools -- but good."

Why else would officials conclude in a report that year-round education would save a half-million dollars annually and could be accomplished quickly -- opposite the findings of some other Maryland school systems -- and then withhold a recommendation?

This tactic has the effect of delaying a conclusion, in effect holding year-round schooling over the heads of residents, too, who have shown scant support for it. A few decades after year-round education was initiated in the United States, with some systems trying and abandoning it, the concept remains at best a Sunbelt fringe movement.

Further clues to the motivations of Howard officials came in the form of candid comments by school board chairwoman Susan Cook, who said she would support year-round education if county officials failed to adequately fund construction. That's about as plain as a threat can get, short of Ms. Cook's pasting little cutout letters together and mailing the missive to county headquarters.

In winning a $31,000 state grant to conduct its study, school officials say they promised only to come up with a model of what a program would look like, not to determine whether it was a good idea. That's the next step, they say. That didn't stop Ms. Cook from concluding that the report proved that Howard could put together an "effective, educationally sound, year-round education program."

How the report does this remains a mystery. How, for instance, can year-round schools be ruled feasible when officials never considered all the costs involved in implementing a plan? Whether this report lends credence to the year-round concept, it unfortunately hones the issue as a weapon in the sometimes ugly dialogue between school and county officials. The public has every right to feel resentment over this development, which amounts to nothing short of crass manipulation.

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