School districts now have permission and specific guidelines from the State Board of Education to cancel school days to save money.

After over an hour of heated debate Friday, as well as several failed motions on varying options, the board finally voted 10-5 on a plan.

School districts are now able to eliminate up to five regular school days from the 2010 school year for budgetary reasons.

Districts doing this will be required to cut three Quality Teaching days before eliminating any regular school days, however.

Quality Teaching days are times when the teachers are in the school working but students aren't present. Districts and charter schools do not need board approval to eliminate these professional development days.

"This motion horrifies me," said board member Carol Murphy of Midway, pointing out it gives districts a potential total eight days of closed doors. She voted against the measure.

The board unanimously approved requiring school districts taking this action to have local school board approval and include parental input.

State board member Dave Thomas, South Weber, suggests slicing days in the middle of the school year.

Districts may be tempted to simply cut the last few days of the school year since those are sometimes deemed as "playtime" with warm temperatures and antsy students. "Then those last days become playtime," Thomas pointed out.

The board's discussion coincided with concerns vocalized Friday by the Utah Education Association.

Vik Arnold, UEA's director of government relations and political action, told the board the organization is worried some districts are misinterpreting the Legislature's cuts in the Quality Teaching fund.

The program was targeted simply to make an equitable district-by-district cut. A district can filter money from other areas into the Quality Teaching fund. They aren't forced to cancel Quality Teaching days, Arnold said.

Simply axing Quality Teaching days targets teachers. Other staff, such as cooks and bus drivers, don't work on Quality Teaching days, Arnold said. Districts should "distribute the pain or economic burden in an equitable way," he said.

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Todd Hauber, state associate superintendent of business services, also warned the board that some districts could be confused about what lawmakers said during the recent session about furloughs — chopping work days to save money.

"There is no law requiring the school year be reduced," Hauber said.

Lawmakers never mandated that schools use a furlough, since that would go against state board rule that requires 180 days and 990 hours each school year. Legislators did vocalize their support of furloughs, however, he said.