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Shorter school year proposed

Facing budget cuts in the 2009-10 year and beyond, Alabama’s school systems are looking at alternative ways to save money. One possible solution, being discussed by The School Superintendents’ Association of Alabama, would be to cut the school year by five days.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said she feels it would be a viable solution, if the state legislature considers the idea.

“Two years ago, the legislature passed adding five days to the school year, so we’d just being back to the schedule we were on before,” she said. “I see this — and I’m sure the other superintendents see it this way, too — I see this as a way for people not to lose their jobs. We’d rather have to do just about anything else, before we have to cut people.”

McAnulty said trimming the school year from 180 days to 175 days would not necessarily have a significant impact on the schools’ curriculums. She explained that even though the state has 180 days of schooling, systems must begin classes before Aug. 11 and typically try to have as many “instruction days” as possible before state-wide testing in March or April.

Because the five days would probably be cut from the end of the year, after testing has already taken place, McAnulty feels there would be little impact in the schools’ educational mission. However, employees would see a reduction in pay from five fewer work days.

“I believe the estimate is that by eliminating those five days, the state could save about $91-92 million,” she said. “That would be a significant savings and could save jobs. Right now, we’re trying to look for ways not to impact our instructional program by having to reduce the number of teachers.”

Sharon Dye, superintendent of Covington County Schools, said she does not feel the five-day reduction has a realistic chance of passing. She also said it would be an answer that could have negative consequences.

“Everyone just feels like our state’s programs already have such strong momentum,” she said. “It would be a shame to take any step back. But if it’s necessary to make a step like this to save jobs, then I think that would be different.”

McAnulty said solutions are necessary because of the severity of the state’s budget crisis. In addition to 9 percent proration, there is the additional possibility of as much as $300 million being slashed from the 2009-10 education budget during this year’s legislative session.

One potential source of additional funding could come from President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, which would more double the budget for the U.S. Department of Education.

Although McAnulty is hopeful that the stimulus package passes, she said it is too early to hope for federal money as a way to get out of the current crisis.

“It’s all very uncertain at this point,” she said. “My momma always told me not to count your chickens before they hatch. I think, that if it passes, it has the potential of helping us a great deal. But we don’t know if it will pass the Senate, and then even if it does pass, we have no idea of knowing how much would go to the states and local systems.

“But it could certainly make a world of difference, if it passes.”

One stipulation of the proposed stimulus package is that a certain amount of funds would have to be spent on construction projects. McAnulty said ACS has its list of “shovel-ready” projects ready to go, if federal funding comes through.

“The last time we had a bond issue, we made up a few extra construction project plans for somewhere in the future,” she said. “We’ve done some preliminary plans and have a few projects lined up that we’d have ready to go if the stimulus package passes.”

Dye said her system is also ready in case Obama’s stimulus package passes.

“Any amount that we could get would be a big help,” she said. “We have a capital plan that goes five years out, and we’d have a few projects that we could make ‘go green’ if the package comes through. We’d maybe look at things like replacing old windows, or adding insulation to some of our buildings.

“We have a lot of ideas out there, but right now we’re just in the planning stages because there’s still so much uncertainty.”