To the point week of 2-19-09

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AS SWITZERLAND COUNTY CREEPS toward Spring, and the threat of more snow hangs over us, one of the major topics for discussion is what will happen with the State of Indiana and the number of days that students have missed due to being out of school because of the weather.

After Switzerland County students attended classes this past Monday instead of being out for Presidents Day, they are now seven days short, including the three days that were missed because of the windstorm back in September.

In the past, the Indiana State Legislature and other state officials have stepped in when winter weather is stronger than normal, and waived some of the 180 days that are required for a school year.

In the past the state has waived five days; so if that happens again, that would leave the local school district with two days left to make up, which would be a manageable number and still get students out of school at a reasonable date on the calendar.

If the state doesn’t waive five days, then the end of the school year would be pushed back by more than a week, which would disrupt graduation and other activities.

In the midst of all of this, I found some interesting information about a group called “SaveIndianaSummers.org”, whose mission has become shortening the school year for Indiana kids.

The group has proposed that the Indiana State Legislature pass a measure that allows individual school boards the option of having longer school days and reducing the number of days that students go to school.

Currently, “SaveIndianaSummers.org” says that the state requires 180 days of school – which translates to 900 hours of instructional time for elementary students (five hours a day for 180 days); and 1,080 hours of instructional time for students in grades 7-12 (six hours a day for 180 days).

Under the group’s plan, the state would measure hours rather than days.

If an individual school board chose to extend their school day, they could then go less days, which could save school districts money on utilities and other services, such as bus routes.

Fewer days means less money for non-instructional services.

So – if a school district is spending less tax dollars on things that have nothing to do with instruction; then in theory they could use those funds for items that have a direct impact on instruction.

More money for instruction means more available for students.

Additionally, more time for a student in a classroom could translate to parents having to spend less money on childcare until the dad and mom get home from work.

The group also sports studies that show that lowering the number of classroom days has little or no impact on student test scores.

It advocates school years that start in late August and end in late May.

If you’re my age, you remember a time when school started after Labor Day and ended before Memorial Day. I’m not sure how many school days that translated into – or school hours – but I do know that I came out of high school prepared to go to college and have a successful life, as did many of my classmates.

I don’t look back and feel deprived that I only got 172 instructional days rather than 180, or whatever the total was.

I remember snow days as good things.

I remember that Summer vacation was just that.

Colleges and universities, which aren’t governed by the state calendar, have shorter and shorter academic years; and are still producing productive members of society.

So maybe this push makes some sense.

Maybe going to school until 4 p.m. each day instead of 3 p.m., which would be an additional hour a day – or an additional day each week under the “five hours per day/180 days formula – would translate to four additional days per month.

Counting hours, in a regular month, five days of school per week, for four weeks, 20 days total, at five hours per day – that’s 100 hours per month, times nine months (36 weeks) gets you to 900 hours.

If a school corporation went an extra hour per day, that would be five days of school per week, for four weeks, 20 days total, at six hours per day – that’s 120 hours per month, which gets you to 900 hours in 7 1/2-months (30 weeks).

That’s six weeks of savings, in theory.

“SaveIndianaSummers.org” quotes “The Education Commission of the States,” which estimated in 2008 that it would cost the taxpayers of Indiana $53,663,933 per day we add to the school year.

That’s statewide, but it’s also a staggering figure.

So what’s the problem?

There could be several.

Here in Switzerland County, adjusting our school dates and calendar would have to be done in concert with the other schools in this area because of the Southeastern Career Center. All of the schools that feed into the vocational school would have to have the same basic calendar, because those students would need to have an adequate amount of training hours in their chosen fields.

Another consideration would be the teachers and staff, who would have to support the longer day. If non-certified staff, for example, are paid by the day rather than the hour, it would cost those employees money, which in turn could cost the school corporation good employees.

So there’s a lot to consider when looking at the proposal; but I feel that at the center of it all is that each individual school district would have the right to choose what it wants to do. There would be no mandate from the Statehouse requiring one way or the other – and I think that’s a good thing.