Local school superintendents agree that a longer school year could be a good thing academically, but there are some financial considerations to be addressed if there are more days added to the school calendar.
Gov. Jay Nixon broached the subject recently in a school visit. Nixon would like to extend the school year to the national average of 180 days. Missouri schools currently are required to have the equivalent of 174 days of classes, a schedule that puts the state as having the fourth shortest school calendar in the country.
In a news release, Nixon said his new budget will include funds to allow districts to extend the school calendar.
"My budget for the upcoming fiscal year will include resources to support additional school days," the governor said. "Investing in our public schools is the right thing to do for our kids and our economy."
Additional funds are a welcome note to the Northwest R-1 School District, in Jefferson County.
Northwest Superintendent Paul Ziegler, who generally agrees that more time in school could be a good thing, nevertheless, he says cost is a factor in the Northwest District.
"Anytime we can keep kids engaged in academic activities is a good thing," Ziegler said. "But unless you have meaningful activities, It's just time. What we need is productive time."
Northwest currently has a 169-day academic calendar, Ziegler said. It meets the state's current 174-day mandate (or 1,044 hours) because it has lengthened the school day.
The biggest detriment to a longer school calendar could be high cost, Ziegler said. It costs the district just under $25,000 per day in transportation expenses for the entire district, he said. And that doesn't include bus driver salaries. It amounts to about $150,000 in potential expenses in the district's budget to add six days to the school calendar, Ziegler said.
"I do tend to agree with (a longer school year), provided it is meaningful time," he said. "If we had more time with kids that would be a good thing."
Dianne Critchlow, superintendent of the Fox School District agrees that extra academic time would be "good for kids," but also adds that cost could be an issue, as much as $300,000 in additional operational costs to lengthen the school calendar.
In the Rockwood School District, an extension of the academic calendar to 180 days would not have an impact of any kind as it already schedules classes for that many days.
“Since students in Rockwood attend school for 180 days, and have for many years, we obviously support the governor’s proposal. This would not be a change for us," said Rockwood Superintendent Bruce Borchers. "Research has indicated students benefit from being in school. There is documented evidence of the effect an extended period of time off in the summer has on student learning."
In the Lindbergh School District, Superintendent Jim Simpson agreed with his colleagues that more classroom time is beneficial and would be costly.
"Learning increases the more time spent focused on mastering the curricula material," Simpson said. "Also, students forget material and their skills can get rusty over a long summer break."
But Simpson added that extending the school year for Lindbergh schools would be expensive.
"For Lindbergh Schools, the cost to run a full week of school for 6,000 students is approximately one million dollars," Simpson said. "Six days added to the calendar would cost us $1.2 million dollars."
Lindbergh schools currently build in 177 days a classes each year, which include potential snow days.
Simpson added that there is another another potential factor in a distict's decision to lengthen the school year.
"The biggest additional factor is parent support," he said "Some parents would welcome a longer school year because they work and it would save them from having to purchase day care in the summer. However, other parents value a relaxed summer for their children and feel they need some time off from the school routine for other family activities."