Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/04/2004 02:38 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 239-LENGTH OF SCHOOL TERM                                                                                                  
Number 0063                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WILSON announced that the  first order of business would be                                                               
SENATE BILL NO.  239, "An Act relating to the  required number of                                                               
days in a school year."                                                                                                         
Number 0109                                                                                                                     
SENATOR FRED DYSON, Alaska State  Legislature, sponsor of SB 239,                                                               
presented the bill  to the committee and  answered questions from                                                               
the members.   He explained that  he filed SB 239  at the request                                                               
of the  [Anchorage] School District.   This bill will  allow some                                                               
flexibility  in  the number  of  days  a  school is  in  session.                                                               
Senator Dyson said that there  has been a very successful charter                                                               
school which held classes four days  per week.  The students were                                                               
doing  very well,  the teachers  and  parents loved  it, and  the                                                               
school  district  had  approved  this plan.    After  the  plan's                                                               
approval it was  found that under state law  school attendance is                                                               
required for 180 days so the  district was not permitted to allow                                                               
it to  go forward, he explained.   The original bill  was amended                                                               
on the  floor from  150 days of  attendance to  equivalent hours,                                                               
Senator Dyson told the committee.                                                                                               
Number 0230                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  WILSON announced  that the  committee is  looking at  CSSB                                                               
239(HES)am, 23-LS1269\D.A.                                                                                                      
SENATOR DYSON  clarified that this  version of the  bill provides                                                               
that students  can attend  school less than  180 days.   However,                                                               
students in kindergarten  through third grade must  have at least                                                               
740  hours  of  instruction  and   study  periods,  and  students                                                               
attending  grades fourth  through  twelfth grades  must have  900                                                               
hours  of instruction  and  study  periods.   He  added that  any                                                               
school that wishes to use  this option must first obtain approval                                                               
from its  superintendent, school  board, and  then present  it to                                                               
the  commissioner  of  education.    Senator  Dyson  shared  that                                                               
several  of the  boarding  schools are  very  interested in  this                                                               
option since it  would allow the students to go  home more often.                                                               
He pointed  out that there is  a retroactive portion of  the bill                                                               
[page 2, lines 17 and 18]  which addresses the problem the school                                                               
that   was  approved   by  the   Anchorage  School   District  is                                                               
experiencing  because  it  was  found   that  the  plan  was  not                                                               
currently legal under Alaska statute.   He told the committee the                                                               
students are now  attending classes six days per week  to make up                                                               
for the  lost time.   If  this bill  passes with  the retroactive                                                               
effective day,  then the school  can cut  back to a  normal class                                                               
schedule,  he said.   He  added  that the  Legislative Legal  and                                                               
Research Services  has confirmed that this  retroactive clause is                                                               
Number 0375                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WILSON shared  that she has to cousins who  are teachers in                                                               
Colorado where  this type of  schedule has been implemented  as a                                                               
cost savings  effort.  There is  a savings in utility  costs, she                                                               
said.   Chair Wilson added  that the teachers love  the schedule.                                                               
Some parents  may not like it  because it may require  parents to                                                               
hire a babysitter while they work.                                                                                              
SENATOR DYSON agreed that there  are savings.  The districts that                                                               
his  office has  communicated with  who have  implemented similar                                                               
plans have  saved money on  transportation costs,  janitorial and                                                               
cooking  costs.   He  stated that  as long  as  the students  are                                                               
learning what  is necessary, he  believes the state  should allow                                                               
the schools some flexibility.                                                                                                   
Number 0445                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WILSON announced for the  record that Representative Cissna                                                               
has joined the meeting.                                                                                                         
Number 0456                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON commented  that  the way  he calculates  a                                                               
seven-hour day,  the school  year could  be down  to 130  days of                                                               
schools  for  secondary  schools,  and 105  or  106  for  primary                                                               
schools.  He  asked if it is Senator Dyson  intention to see that                                                               
kind of reduction in attendance days.                                                                                           
SENATOR DYSON replied  that no schools that he knows  of have the                                                               
intention of having  classes for seven hours.  Once  the time for                                                               
recesses,  lunchtime, and  movement  between  classes is  removed                                                               
from the class  day, the number of class hours  would be far less                                                               
hours than [seven hours], he added.                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON pointed  out that the school could  go to a                                                               
longer day and still only have classes 106 days per year.                                                                       
CHAIR WILSON  reminded the members  that any change in  the class                                                               
schedule  must  be approved  by  the  superintendent, the  school                                                               
board,  [and the  commissioner of  education].   She pointed  out                                                               
that kids  can only  tolerate a  limited number  of hours  in the                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked  what is the current  number of hours                                                               
students attend classes.                                                                                                        
CHAIR WILSON replied six hours.                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON asked  for  clarification  on the  current                                                               
school year.                                                                                                                    
Number 0567                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  GATTO  responded  that currently  there  are  180                                                               
days, and 170 of those days are  contact days.  The other 10 days                                                               
are for teacher in-services, he added.                                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON acknowledge  that  there  are 170  contact                                                               
days  per school  year  currently under  law.   This  legislation                                                               
would allowed for  longer hours.  He surmised  that by increasing                                                               
the  classroom time  by one  hour per  day students  would attend                                                               
school 106 days for elementary  school and 130 days for secondary                                                               
school.    He  asked  if  this is  what  the  sponsor  wished  to                                                               
accomplish with this bill, since  he notes that the original bill                                                               
only wanted the school term to be reduced to 150 days.                                                                          
Number 0622                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  DYSON pointed  to page  2, line  8, and  emphasized that                                                               
everything that takes place at  school that is not instruction or                                                               
study periods would not be included in the hour count.                                                                          
Number 0644                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GATTO  referred to page  2, line 8, where  it says                                                               
"at least"  740 hours instruction,  and on  page 2, line  9, says                                                               
"at least"  900 hours of  instruction.  He  said that on  page 2,                                                               
line 13  [and 14], there  is further clarification where  it says                                                               
"students will receive the approximate  education equivalent of a                                                               
180-day term."   Representative Gatto commented that  he does not                                                               
see  where  the bill  diminishes  any  contact time,  but  simply                                                               
allows the flexibility to rearrange the contact time.                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  asked Senator Dyson if  students currently                                                               
receive 740 hours in 170 contact days.                                                                                          
SENATOR DYSON replied  that he would not say  that, but suggested                                                               
that   is  probably   a  good   equivalent.     He  agreed   with                                                               
Representative Gatto's  comments.   These hours are  minimums and                                                               
were inserted into  the bill to ensure members of  the other body                                                               
were  comfortable with  the reduction  in  required school  days.                                                               
Chair   Wilson   is   correct   in   her   statement   that   the                                                               
superintendent,   school   board,   [and  commissioner   of   the                                                               
Department  of Education  and Early  Development]  would have  to                                                               
approve the change in school year, he added.                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   SEATON  asked   if   representatives  from   the                                                               
Department of Education and Early  Development would speak to his                                                               
question  on the  current assumption  that 740  hours of  contact                                                               
time is provided in a 170-day school term.                                                                                      
Number 0773                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WOLF referred  to page 2, line 8,  where it refers                                                               
to 740 hours of instruction.   He commented that at six hours per                                                               
day, that is 123 days.                                                                                                          
Number 0817                                                                                                                     
KEVIN SWEENEY,  Special Assistant to the  Commissioner, Office of                                                               
the Commissioner, Department of  Education and Early Development,                                                               
testified on SB 239 and answered  questions from the members.  He                                                               
explained that  in statute a  day in  session is described  as at                                                               
least four hours of instruction  for primary grades, and at least                                                               
five hours  for grades four  through twelve.  This  time excludes                                                               
intermission.   What was done  is that 180 days  was [multiplied]                                                               
by  four hours  for  the 740  hours for  the  primary grades  and                                                               
multiplied by  five hours for  the 900 hours required  for grades                                                               
four through twelve, he explained.                                                                                              
MR.  SWEENEY  told  the  members   that  he  just  spoke  to  the                                                               
commissioner on this bill, and  explained that the department had                                                               
worked  with Senator  Dyson to  insert  the 140-day  requirement.                                                               
However, the  bill was then  changed on  the floor of  the senate                                                               
from  days   to  hours.     Mr.   Sweeney  emphasized   that  the                                                               
commissioner is  comfortable with this change.   The commissioner                                                               
will have  a litmus test to  ensure that the quality  of the time                                                               
provides the  equivalent of 180 days  of education, he said.   It                                                               
is assumed  that the school board  will be doing the  same thing,                                                               
he added.  Mr. Sweeney  reiterated that the commissioner supports                                                               
the bill.                                                                                                                       
Number 0907                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WILSON said she is also comfortable with the bill.                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE GATTO pointed out  that there is another important                                                               
benefit for  some boarding schools.   For example,  Nenana School                                                               
District  could   possibly  offer  an  education   to  additional                                                               
children by  condensing the number  of days the  existing student                                                               
enrollment attends school.  There  are fixed expenses for running                                                               
the  school, but  if the  school had  more children  enrolled the                                                               
school  would receive  more income  as a  result of  the boarding                                                               
school.  Representative  Gatto said there is a  real advantage in                                                               
having the opportunity to offer  an education to more students at                                                               
an existing  site, rather than  having a limited  enrollment that                                                               
cannot be changed.                                                                                                              
Number 0988                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON asked  Representative  Gatto  if he  means                                                               
that by  reducing the number of  days in a term  the school could                                                               
run two sets of students through the same site.                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  GATTO  said that's  correct.    For example,  one                                                               
group of  student could go  to school from September  to February                                                               
and a  second set  could go  from February to  August.   It would                                                               
make it possible  to have two entire classes go  through the same                                                               
site per year.                                                                                                                  
CHAIR WILSON acknowledge that some states do just that.                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  GATTO  moved  to   report  CSSB  239(HES)am,  23-                                                               
LS1269\D.A, out of committee  with individual recommendations and                                                               
the accompanying  fiscal notes.   There being no  objection, CSSB                                                               
239(HES)am was  reported out of  the House Health,  Education and                                                               
Social Services Standing Committee.                                                                                             

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