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Schools nationwide cutting back on school days due to the budget, but not Utah

Published: Wednesday, July 6 2011 3:11 p.m. MDT

Continued budget cuts are a causing dramatic changes for schools. Not only are they having to reduce personnel and raise class sizes, many schools are cutting school days come this school year.

Thousands of districts across the country are "lopping days off the school year," The New York Times reported this week.

Last week, Olympia School Board in Washington decided to shorten its district's school year by three days — from 180 to 177, saving thousands of dollars, according to The Olympian. Teachers will be required to attend staff training during those days, but the district will save money in salary costs for non-teaching employees like bus drivers and cafeteria workers, the paper said.

California lawmakers recently approved cutting up to seven more days from the required school year if budgets get any tighter, The Times reported. This is after already cutting five days from the school year over the last couple of years.

St. Mary's school board in Maryland added three unpaid furlough days to their schools' winter break this coming year, which will save the district about $1.5 million, the Southern Maryland Newspapers Online reported late last week.

And several districts in Texas are trying to encourage teachers and students to use a program that was implemented in 2003 that would allow students who perform well to be released up to 10 days early from school, according to mysanantonia.com.

"We are looking for ways of using our resources better," Southwest ISD Superintendent Llyod Verstuyft told the media outlet. "We see what is happening at the state with education funding, and we just think this is one way of trying to meet that issue."

Yet in 2009, President Obama said the school year should actually be lengthened, not shortened.

"Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," he was quoted as saying in a Fox News article a couple years ago. "But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

The Times article on shorter school years reported that "virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time."

Yet Fox goes on to say that although the U.S. has a shorter number of school days in a school year, students here have more instructional hours per year than many high-scoring developed countries.

The Deseret News reported in an article on Tuesday that U.S. teachers spend on average 1,097 hours teaching in front of a class a year, the highest number among major developed countries. New Zealand reported the next highest number of instruction hours a year at 985.

But while many schools are cutting back on school days, some states and districts have shot down such proposals.

Franklin County School Board in Florida rejected a proposal that would have shortened the school year by 24 days and added about 45 minutes to each school day, The Apalachicola and Carrabelle Times reported last week. The proposal would have saved the school district $158,000. One parent at the meeting commented that they wanted their child to be ready for college and cutting so many days out of the school year would take away from their child's education. Another one had statistics about attention spans, saying that adding extra hours to the school day would hinder academic learning.

North Carolina, in fact, recently added five days to this year's school calendar (from 180 days to 185), according to the Charlotte Observer.

And Utah's State Board of Education voted against the optional five furlough days schools had been allowed the previous two years, according to an article in the Deseret News in April.

"I think the kids have been out of school enough based on bad economies," board member Carol Murphy was quoted as saying. The state is allowing up to two days for the purpose of teacher training.

(The state also has looked into different school calendaring models and has a number of elementary schools that operate alternative or year-round models.

EMAIL: slenz@desnews.com

TWITTER: saralenz

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