The Ogden School District's 200-day calendar may be the modest beginning of a major step toward national education reform, says a former U.S. secretary of education.

"We've all said it will be well to have a 200-day school year, but who can afford it? If they can make this work, it's going to be very significant," said T.H. Bell, education secretary in the Reagan administration from 1981-85.Bell, a former Weber School District superintendent who now lives in Salt Lake City, said Ogden's proposed use of substitutes to extend the traditional 180-day calendar by 20 days is a "very promising proposal."

"It would be a remarkable change, and I think not only in the state of Utah but across the nation they'll be looking at this with a lot of interest," he said.

Bell said other school systems across the country are working toward increasing the school year, but most of them are inching upward in small increments because of the tremendous costs involved in extending teachers' contracts.

"But this is a dramatic move, a very significant one," he said of Ogden's plan to make the longer school year affordable through use of contracted substitutes.

Bell was secretary of education when "A Nation at Risk" was issued in 1983. The report became the first of several critical reviews of America's education system and among other things called for a school year longer than the traditional 180-day calendar.

"It came out seven years ago last April, but there hasn't been any significant response to the recommendation that the school year be extended," Bell said.

The Ogden proposal has the potential to be a significant response to "A Nation at Risk," he said.

Bell said he understands teachers' concerns over the quality of teaching time using substitutes. The proposal could work, he said, if the substitutes are trained carefully and work under the supervision of a qualified, certified teacher.