Politics & Government

Lawmakers discuss shortening of school year to save money

With school closures and program eliminations threatened as more state cuts hit already battered school districts, (see Debbie Cafazzo's weekend story for an overview) one alternative under consideration is holding fewer days of school.

The idea of reducing the mandated 180-day school year, perhaps by three days, is getting some attention in the Legislature. Rep. Kathy Haigh, the top budget writer for education in the House, said it's the best of many bad ideas.

"I don’t think it's necessarily the right thing to do, but it might be the fair thing to do," said Haigh, D-Shelton. "There are those who really disagree with that, but we’re pretty desperate."

Giving students the entire week of Thanksgiving off, for example, would cut three days at a time when students aren't learning much anyway because of the upcoming break, Haigh said.

There are all kinds of hurdles. The calendar is part of contracts with school employees, so unions would have to agree in contract negotiations, Haigh said. "At this point I would say it’s a stretch," she said.

The Legislature's decisions could even affect the current school year. A bill introduced today by Rep. Christine Rolfes, co-sponsored by four Democrats and one Republican, would let districts apply to state Superintendent Randy Dorn's office to reduce the 2010-2011 year by three days.

The Bethel School Board is discussing the idea of cutting days, and Bethel union president Tom Cruver told Cafazzo that while it would hurt teachers, at least it would be more transparent than program cuts.

Bethel would save about $3.5 million by cutting five days.