A shorter school year the answer?

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

A bill has been introduced into the Legislature's special session that would call for a "compacted" school year - starting no earlier than August 18, and ending no later than June 1.

This bill would extend the summer vacation of students by some two to three weeks. That's a good thing.

Why? Not just because students would get extra time on vacation, but because it makes fiscal sense.

Currently, school begins in Alabama in early August - one of the hottest times of the year. Schools have to pay extra in utility bills to keep the students cool enough to have a comfortable learning environment.

If school started later in the year, the usage of air conditioners in school buildings could be reduced. Students would be able to partake in outdoor activities instead of sitting inside because the mercury is hovering around 98 degrees, and it would eliminate a strain on the electrical grid (remember the Northeast last month?).

However, with the compacted school year, proposed by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, students would not attend school any fewer days.

"Extended" breaks for holidays would be trimmed and extra days off would be eliminated.

Perhaps Ford is on to something here. Compacting a school year could be a good thing, but it isn't the Legislature that needs to dictate that.

Yes, it is their responsibility to establish the "guidelines," but give local school systems the authority to establish their own school year.

Alabama is a diverse state climatologically. In the northern reaches of the state, it's typically much cooler than along the coast and southern interior portions of the state. Some systems up north could start earlier than those in the southern part of the state - remember, it snows up there more than it does down here, so there's a not really a need for "snow days."

We applaud Ford's thinking on this matter and hope the Legislature will consider it - with modifications allowing for greater local control. In the end, it could save a lot of money for the schools, and that's money that we, the taxpayers, can save as well.