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CA could cut the school year by 5 weeks…

May 14, 2011

Can you say “extended summer?”  Well, if you are a teacher or a student in California you may have to (I can hear the cheers from my students already).  The Mercury News has a story about how the budget impasse may cause California to have to shorten the school year by five weeks.

“The calendar says spring, the weather says late winter, but at this time next year, it could be summer vacation for schools. That’s if California is forced to patch its budget hole by taking billions of dollars out of education.

While plans aren’t settled or even proposed, Gov. Jerry Brown and other officials have suggested that without new revenues, California’s 180-day school year could be shortened by as much as five weeks in 2011-12. That’s one-seventh of the school year.

Students might welcome their summer holiday starting in April. But simply the prospect of a drastically shortened school year is causing alarm.

“People are really worried,” said David Ginsborg, a Willow Glen parent who last fall urged the San Jose Unified school board to restore five school days eliminated from the current school year.

When school is suddenly out, working parents have few options, he said, especially for taking care of young adolescents. “What are you going to do? Say ‘The ‘fridge is full, stay home, be safe’?”

Education fight begins

On Monday, Brown will propose a revised budget for next fiscal year — and a fight over what’s at stake for schools is in full swing. Even with higher-than-expected income-tax revenue, the state budget might fall $12 billion short. Republicans say schools could still be spared, but Democrats predict K-12 education may lose $5 billion.

That could translate to about $800 per student — a fear that has had educators, students and parents staging impassioned rallies to fight for school funding, including one Friday in San Francisco.

Educationally, the loss of even a week is tough, teachers say. Schools are held accountable for their students meeting proficiency standards, as measured by STAR tests. Some already have jettisoned art, science and music to ensure students know skills that are on the tests. Further cutting into class time makes covering all the state standards difficult, said Chris Evans, a teacher at East Side Union’s Mount Pleasant High School in San Jose.

With school ending there May 25 because of the district’s one-week furlough, “It really feels like this year zoomed by,” Evans said.

Reformers say California needs to extend, not shorten, the school year.

“These cuts are going to hit the kids who can afford it the least,” said Michele Bertolone, the mother of first- and third-graders at River Glen Elementary in San Jose. Not everyone can leave jobs to stay home with children or find scarce day-care slots. This year, during San Jose Unified’s one-week furlough in October, she took her children on vacation. But if the school year is even shorter, “We can’t go on vacation for five weeks,” she said. “How many times can I go to Happy Hollow?”

State law sets the school year at a minimum of 180 days, but because of the current budget shortfall, the Legislature allows districts to cut out five school days, and an additional five nonschool days. About half the state’s 1,000 school districts have done that by negotiating furloughs of different lengths, including San Jose Unified, East Side Union and Cupertino Union school districts.

Districts’ decision

If the Legislature cuts deeply into education in 2011-12, it’s likely to further reduce the minimum school year. It would be up to districts to negotiate their union contracts to eliminate weeks of instruction.

While districts already are approving staffing and budgets for next school year, it’s unlikely the Legislature will tell them how much money they have — or don’t have — until summer or later. By then, it will be disruptive to cut costs by changing course. “Either you are or are not teaching French,” State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said. “You’ve done your staffing assignments for the year.”

Tall task

Likewise, increasing class size would cause midyear upheaval. And districts like East Side already are near the physical capacity of their classrooms. So letting districts shorten the school year could be the easier option.

But that’s an unfair burden, said Superintendent Marc Liebman of the Berryessa Union School District, whose teachers accepted two days of furlough this school year. If the state cuts more than the $349 per student that Brown proposed in January, then the state itself should handle school budget cuts by negotiating for a shorter school year, Liebman said.

Otherwise, “We’ll end up with some districts with 162 days and some with 178. That’s an incredible inequity,” he said. Legislators can’t shove the work and difficult decisions onto districts. “They don’t like to take responsibility for it. They just want to give us less money.”

Liebman maintains the state does have the power to negotiate over local union contracts. Simitian, an attorney, disagreed. “Government can’t just abrogate people’s contracts,” he said. He acknowledged that renegotiating contracts in the state’s 1,000 school districts is no small task.


No one has estimated the costs, in education, lost wages and public safety — the consequence of many kids with time on their hands — of a dramatically shorter school year. Other states are considering shortening their school years by a few days; Hawaii eliminated 17 days in 2009-10, creating a statewide uproar.

Here, student response to the prospect of a shorter school year ranged from “Cool!!!” to worry about being able to pass tests and classes.

But Sam Gavenman, 16, a sophomore at Los Altos High, pointed out that the end of the school year doesn’t really involve all that much learning.

“Every year since elementary school, the last two weeks have always been watching movies and hanging out in the classroom, which is great,” he said. “It’s that end-of-the-year mentality, I’m chilling.”

That we are even discussing the possibility of this goes to show you just how obstinate one portion of our political populace have become.  Look, if you want to live in a society that provides quality services for its population including a quality education, you have to pay for them.  When society and the economy have been devastated by a popped real estate and credit bubble that teachers had nothing to do with creating it is time to start to talk about what is really important for our future as a whole, and if properly educating our children should be part of that.


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