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School Board Approves Continued Development of School Day Proposal

by on October 10, 2017 10:27 AM

The State College Area School Board on Monday unanimously approved continuing to develop a proposal that would extend the elementary school day and provide a later start time for middle schools and the high school.

A final vote was not expected on Monday, but rather, district administrators asked the board last month to consider a vote authorizing continued development of the plan with a possible final vote in December.

The board anticipates providing final direction to the district in December with the possibility that the new schedules could be implemented for the 2018-19 school year.

District teachers voted in April to approve a contract change in support of a proposal to provide more planning and instruction time at the elementary level and later start times for the secondary schools.  Elementary schools currently start at 8:44 a.m. and end at 2:50 p.m., making it one of the shortest elementary days in the state. Under a revised proposal, the elementary school day would be extended by 44 minutes, starting at 8:10 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m.

Middle school and high school start times would shift from the current 8:10 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., with middle schools ending at 3:42 p.m. and the high school at 3:40 p.m.

The changes are intended to increase instruction time at the elementary levels while aligning secondary times with sleep research recommendations for adolescents.

One of the challenges for the change in start times is bus routes. The district can't run elementary and secondary bus routes without a significant additional cost beyond what is already anticipated. It's also required to provide transportation for the 11 charter and non-public schools in the area. Those schools are not required to adapt their schedules to the district's school day times.

Business administrator Randy Brown said on Monday that several non-district schools indicated over the summer that they would be willing to adjust their schedules.

"However, currently in the last several weeks we have learned those schools are not willing to make adjustments to their time schedule," Brown said. "What that means is we’re having to revamp our bus routes."

Administrators believe the transportation schedule has been worked out, but received approval from the board to enter a contract with School Bus Consultants, not to exceed $24,900, to analyze routes for efficiency.

"We want to get better," Brown said. "We want to make sure we’re not missing any opportunities here. It is a very complex system."

The routes will not result in longer bus rides for district students, Brown said. The anticipated costs for equipment and drivers is estimated at about $550,000. Six mini-buses also would need to be replaced with full-sized models, resulting in a one-time cost of $300,000 to $400,000. 

Brown said the estimated cost would have been about $250,000 had non-SCASD schools been willing to alter their schedules.

Several board members expressed frustration that non-SCASD schools, particularly taxpayer-funded charter schools, were unwilling to collaborate. Board member Scott Fozard said he was "deeply disappointed."

"This situation, especially as it relates to our charter schools, provides me yet another reminder of the complete failure of our elected representatives in Harrisburg to address the inequities of the current charter school law," Fozard said. "The fact that purported public entities funded largely by local tax dollars and shifting significant sums of local tax dollars to for-profit entities outside of our district with effectively no oversight locally continues to astound me.

"Regardless of the outcome of the school day proposal, I fully expect and encourage the SCASD board and administration to remember the lack of interest shown by these entities in perpetuating a collaborative partnership with the district."

The proposed change would add 24 minutes of core instruction time each day, more time for art, library and physical education, as well as a fifth special subject. The fifth special is another outstanding issue to be addressed.

A world language has been suggested for that fifth special, however, over the course of community feedback sessions the district has received a number of other suggestions, including STEM instruction and comprehensive counseling. A stakeholder committee is developing a survey to be given to parents in November.

An additional eight to 10 teaching positions are expected to be needed with the addition of the fifth special. That will result in increased costs, including salary and benefits, of about $1 million.

With the extended elementary day, homework will not increase. In fact, a board committee is reviewing the homework policy to potentially reduce or eliminate homework in kindergarten through fifth grade, with the exception of evening reading and projects.

At the high school level, because of the later end time, the district is looking at ways to change athletic schedules to reduce missed class times. These include shifting non-conference competitions to Saturdays and working with the Mid-Penn Conference to alter afternoon start times and move multi-team competitions to Saturdays when possible.

The district also is working on online and hybrid course options to give flexibility to students participating in extracurricular and co-curricular activities. The "zero period" option of a 45-minute period before the regular school start time also will continue to be offered, and the revised bus routes will offer transportation for students who opt for that period.

Board member Laurel Zydney expressed concern, as she has at past meetings, that more time was needed for the proposal and the voting in December and implementing the schedule next year would be premature. She said more time is needed to iron out the plan and to engage and inform parents and community members.

"It takes time building even close to consensus," Zydney said.

Board member Dan Duffy said that though there are issues to be worked out, they can be addressed and shouldn't stop the board from considering a final decision in December.

Fozard said it is important to act if the district has a good proposal.

"I really feel strongly a good decision now is better than a perfect decision never," he said.

Board president Amber Concepcion noted that discussions about addressing the elementary school day date back nearly 20 years. Current administrators have been looking at ways to increase instruction time since 2014, and superintendent Bob O'Donnell said that between discussions with teachers, the board and the community, the current proposal is really in its second year.

"We have options," O'Donnell said. "We have an option to move forward with the status quo, or if you believe our proposal is better for students then you have that option."

 



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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