Should the school year be shortened in order to save money? That’s something state legislators may be considering when the special legislative session starts later this month.
According to a story in The Everett Herald, superintendents from around the state are urging the state Legislature to shorten the school year by a week in order to help absorb expected budget reductions.
Shortening the 180-day school year would mean districts aren’t paying employees for as many days or keeping buildings open, theoretically saving a decent chunk of change. But shortening the school year also means students are losing-out on instructional days, something that people argue isn’t the best idea when so much hinges on student success on tests.
The Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, states in a blog post today that superintendents should be asking employees to take pay reductions rather than shorten the school year. She argues that shortening the school year is more detrimental to students than reducing salaries would be.
The state Legislature required state employees, including school employees, to have salary reductions this year, ranging from 1.9 to 3 percent. School districts were left to bargain with individual employee unions to implement the pay cuts, with outcomes ranging from districts covering the reduction to employees taking the total hit.
Some districts already have students attending school fewer days than that; to do that, districts must get waivers from the state. Most of the time those waivers are granted so that districts can have a couple staff professional development days.
And this isn’t the first time the state Legislature has considered the idea. And Washington wouldn’t be alone; Oregon school districts had employees take furlough days last school year, shortening the school year.
So, what should school districts and the Legislature do? Is shortening the school year the best way to absorb expected budget cuts for 2012-13 and beyond, possibly allowing districts to not cut programs, but providing kids with less instructional time? Or, are staff and salary cuts the best way to handle the deficit, knowing that cutting teachers increases class sizes and cutting administrators can impact the behind-the-scenes operations of the district.
In either case, shortening the school year or reducing salaries, impacts the amount of money school district employees receive. And in either case, district officials would likely have to renegotiate contracts with employee union groups.
For the most part, the easiest ways to make reductions have already happened. So, what should schools, teachers, students, administrators, legislators and families do?