180 or 200? - The Explorer: Marana

180 or 200?

MUSD’s Wilson to present survey on 200-day school year proposal

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Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 3:00 am

Doug Wilson, superintendent of the Marana Unified School District, is expected to present survey results for the 200-day calendar proposal to the governing board on May 12.

In January, Wilson came out with the idea to go from the traditional 180-day school year, to 200 days.

The district started a parent and staff survey on April 8; its end date was last Friday, April 22.

Tamara Crawley, public information officer for the district, said staff members will take the results from the online survey, make calls to parents who did not do it, and compile the results for the board to review on May 12.

After four months of public meetings and surveys, Wilson said he will stand by his earlier promise that if 70 percent of those surveyed are not in favor of the change he won’t make a recommendation to approve the change to the board; however, he will still present the results.

Going back to why he proposed such a drastic change, Wilson said the administration continues hearing from staff that there isn’t enough time during the current calendar year to cover all the federal and state-set standards.

One consideration was to go to what one of the state’s top school districts, Vail, has being doing with its extended-year calendar.

While still going to school 180 days, an extended-year calendar means a shorter summer with a two-week break in the fall, winter and spring.

Wilson said the problem with moving to the extended-year calendar is it doesn’t address the problem presented by teachers and staff – it doesn’t provide more time for instruction.

“Being good is okay, but we want to be better. We always want to improve on what we are doing,” he said.

Calvin Baker, superintendent of the Vail School District, said he applauds the Marana School District for thinking outside the box. The added 20 days will mean more instructions time.

However, Baker added, “I’ve looked carefully at the 200-day option allowed by the law, but haven’t pursued it yet as I’m not sure the additional funding from the state is sufficient. The other reality is in these days of limited time and resources, our efforts must be carefully chosen. We’ve chosen to focus on other improvement efforts.”

According to state-set standards, none of the Marana elementary schools, or Mountain View or Marana high schools are under performing. However, despite their being labeled performing or above, several schools missed meeting the Annually Yearly Progress designation, which is a federal requirement.

In a 200-day school year, Wilson said the obvious focus would be on improving math and language arts, noting those are the areas on which the state-set standards are based.

A 200-day school year is not common, with only one other district in the state using it. The Balsz Elementary School District, in Phoenix, has the approved the added month.

Vikki Balentine, superintendent of the neighboring Amphitheater Public Schools, said no matter what MUSD decides Amphi has no intention of changing from the traditional school-year calendar.

Balentine said Amphi is not up to renew an override, and budgetary constraints would prevent the district from making a change.

Finances

With state budget cuts for the third year in a row slashing public education, the biggest question surrounding the 200-day calendar is cost.

Wilson said Arizona has a law that allows districts to receive additional state aid if a 200-day calendar is implemented. Wilson, however, admitted there are no guarantees, and state lawmakers could easily change the law by the 2012-2013 school year, when the 200-day calendar would go into effect.

Under the current law, the state finances 50 percent of the total costs associated with the extra month of school. According to the breakdown, the state would pay $3.1 million of the added cost, and Marana schools would foot the bill for the remaining $2.9 million.

To fund the remaining costs, the district will likely take a chance by asking voters to approve an additional 3-percent override in November.

The district is already slated to ask voters to renew the maintenance and operations override, which was first approved in 2007.

Asking voters to approve overrides has become a difficult task for school districts over the last year, with many failing at the polls.

Adding 20 more days to the calendar won’t help the district’s current finances. After another round of cuts, for the 2011-2012 traditional school year, the district is likely looking at another round of staff and program cuts with the state taking an estimated $3.3 million.

Benefits vs. challenges

A major benefit to adding another four weeks is the additional instructional time for students, which the district thinks will better prepare them for the 21st century. The additional 20 days of instruction will mean higher student achievement.

The change would also mean less time teachers have to spend on re-teaching students after a lengthy summer break, more time to teach a well-rounded curriculum and an opportunity for greater rigor and innovation.

The district also saw it as a financial benefit for staff and parents, meaning parents will be spending less each year on childcare and staff will earn more money by working the additional four weeks.

On the flip side, if the proposal is recommended and approved, it means less family time during the summer. Also, it will impact staff and student activities during the summer, and district staff will likely be spending more on child care each year.

As survey results remain unknown, plenty of parents have spoken up about the added days to a school year.

Online groups, such as Marana Moms and the MUSD Families Opposed to 200 Days, have raised questions on what it means for teenagers getting jobs and earning money in the summer, what it means to family time, and questioning whether the added classroom hours will benefit the students.

The Marana Moms could not be reached for comment.

Marana resident Erica DeVoy said she supports the 200-day calendar. With one child in middle school and a junior in high school, DeVoy said she feels it will help test scores, help her children and the district as a whole.

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