Some lawmakers say woes regarding low teacher pay and packed classrooms could be helped by extending the school year and keeping the buildings and teachers in use throughout the entire year.

And according to a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates, the majority of Utahns would support the measure.

SB41, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, would allocate $32 million to allow school districts to apply for grant money to modify their current nine-month school schedules.

Districts would submit their proposals to the State Board of Education, which would be charged with selecting the best proposals.

A $2 million grant would be awarded to a rural district with 5,000 or fewer students, $10 million would be given to the selected district with fewer than 30,000 students and $20 million for a district with an enrollment larger than 30,000. That money could go to anything from air conditioning to technology — anything related to the schedule conversion.

The grant provisions require the district selected to provide opportunities for teachers to increase pay by at least 40 percent.

Stephenson said on year-round or extended schedules, schools can serve more students with fewer teachers.

Students would still be attending school 180 days a year but teachers would be teaching around 220. And buildings wouldn't be sitting empty for three months.

"Idling buildings and employees and expecting them to live on nine-month salaries is, to me, so out-of-date," Stephenson said. The traditional schedule came about, he said, "because of our agrarian past, but now we have very few families that do that."

Stephenson said that once one school district makes the move the others will follow in order to stay competitive. However, the grants would only be available for the first districts.

"The state board has taken a position to support the concept — there are issues that still require more detailed examination — but the board's position is that we would encourage experimentation in this area," said Larry Shumway, associate state superintendent for law, legislation and educational services.

McKell Withers, superintendent for Salt Lake City School District, said that while he supports the concept, the devil is in the details.

He said the requirement in the bill to increase teacher salaries at least 40 percent somewhat implies that they only work 60 percent of the year, when in fact it is closer to 80 percent. So that's a detail that needs to be worked out, along with increased utility costs and getting families to support the idea, Withers said.

"But in essence, if the Legislature deems that it's a priority to find different ways to support teachers and have schools open more days of the year to serve more kids, we would love to find ways to make that happen," Withers said.


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