Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/04/2004 01:32 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 239-LENGTH OF SCHOOL TERM The committee took up SB 239. MR. WES KELLER, Staff to Chair Dyson, presented SB 239, explaining that the bill redefines the school year, traditionally defined to be 180 days. If the local school district agrees to something less than the 180-day school year, with the approval of the commissioner of the Department of Education [and Early Development], then a shorter number of days could be used and this would be consistent with the state's standards. This maintains accountability by requiring the commissioner's approval. Included in the committee packet is a memo from Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau to the School Board, requesting that a resolution be passed in support of this, and also a copy of the Anchorage School Board's Resolution in support of this. He said that members should have version A [23-LS1269], and pointed out that page 2, line 3 reflects the change of "different" rather than "of not less than 170 days" and also that the last sentence on page 2 is not proactive, but rather intends to avoid problems with labor issues and contracts. CHAIR DYSON said the bill was submitted at the request of the Anchorage School District but in subsequent conversations, the commissioner of the Department of Education wanted this bill as well. MR. KEVIN SWEENEY, Legislative liaison, Department of Education and Early Development, (DEED), said the commissioner and the department support the overall intent of the bill. With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the monitoring of state assessments, the department is better able to look at the performance of education programs. With that, a case can be made for flexibility and inputs that school programs have. The department believes the legislation strikes a good balance of allowing for creativity while maintaining state and local oversight. The department would like to reserve judgment on page 2, lines 8 - 10 in order to hear from local school districts on how contract negotiations will be impacted. Also, the commissioner would like to have a clear definition of implementation. He said the department would follow this in the legislative process and talk about it later. MR. SWEENEY referred to page 2, lines 3 and 4, and said the commissioner would like to have some definition of a minimum amount of school days. In current statute, page 1, when schools go to a term of less than 180 days, there is still a minimum of 150 days. The commissioner wants to ensure that some sort of oversight can be agreed on, that school boards will have to follow. The commissioner's concern is that one school board's idea of an equivalent of 180 days could vary significantly from another's, and there's really no way to prove exactly what 180 days means. The most popular idea is to go to a 4-day week rather than a 5-day week, and when you do the math, four-fifths of 180 days is 144 days. He reiterated that it would be good to include a minimum, and this would be discussed with the sponsor. He said the commissioner's office had some difficulty with the statute, and apologized for not bringing this up earlier, but the department had thought that the 150-day minimum was still included. CHAIR DYSON asked how long it would take for [Mr. Sweeney] and the commissioner to become comfortable with the bargaining units. MR. SWEENEY replied that what was needed was to hear if there were any concerns from the local districts; the department hadn't as yet heard any concerns. He said they would just monitor the bill as it goes forward, that there were no individual concerns but the department was just reserving judgment. CHAIR DYSON pointed out that there were no further referrals in the process, so perhaps the bill would be held in committee until the department had the information that was needed. MR. SWEENEY said, "Right now we don't have a concern but we haven't heard anything, and maybe today we will." As it's written right now, this could be tough for the department to implement, he added. SENATOR GREEN referred to lines [page 2], 8 - 9, and said, "I would really like to have a good review and really what that means, in every possible version of who might be interpreting it." She said this doesn't specify if a school employee is full-time, permanent, or not. She stated that said some fences should be built around this, adding that this needs to be "dissected and diagramed pretty well." 2:52 p.m. MR. TIM STEELE, Anchorage School District, (ASD) testified via teleconference and referred to the superintendent's recommendation and the school board's resolution on this issue from last year, which he said is still relevant today. He said the ASD is mainly looking for flexibility, and is interested in time-banking as a way to comply with NCLB's necessary training and mentoring pertaining to "highly qualified teachers." ASD wants to ensure that there is the equivalent of 180 days, and was looking at this in terms of flexibility, greater planning time, and having more contact between teacher and student by moving some of the training and professional development necessary for NCLB through bank time. Although ASD supports the concept and hopes it goes through the process, it hasn't been run by the bargaining unit and he doesn't know what "their take is on it." He said that from ASD's point of view, the flexibility is certainly a good idea, adding that the superintendent is fully in support of increased flexibility. SENATOR WILKEN voiced that the bill reflects the notion of "benefit of students, perhaps" whereas the memo [ASD Memorandum 188(2002-2003)] prepared by Jan Christensen, approved by Carol Comeau, refers to bank time, restructuring of school days to provide for professional development, and collaboration time for all staff; this sounds like giving teachers more time away from students rather than spending time with students. He said the intent was to streamline government and this concept injects the idea of keeping track of 15-minute pieces of time that go into a bank which sounds like the creation of a bureaucratic nightmare. He asked what was motivating the ASD to ask for this change. MR. STEELE responded that alternative programs with different schedules have gotten waiver approval for different schedules and there are also a number of charter schools that would like flexible schedules. One student benefit, proven by the middle school model, is that teachers working together allow for ensuring alignment of the curriculum. For example, a history lesson with some English or math tied to it is a reflection of teachers working together; bank time allows for that collaborative time. NCLB requires that there be highly qualified teachers and support staff - paraprofessionals. Currently substitute teachers are hired during professional development trainings. Bank time could ensure that the student's own teacher is there with that contact, which can be argued as a better option than substitute teachers. Bank time could be used for professional development, he said. SENATOR WILKEN asked if professional development was the same as in-service training. MR. STEELE said yes, adding that NCLB has certain requirements, and "highly qualified" is currently being defined. SENATOR WILKEN asked for comment about banking and keeping track of 15-minute segments of time and cashing those in for shortened or alternative days of education. MR. STEELE said this would be school-by-school, not teacher-by teacher. The schedule would be set up and the number of minutes would be extended for classes so that there would be an additional day per month or so, for in-service training/collaboration. This would not be a huge record-keeping issue, he said. SENATOR WILKEN noted that Superintendent Comeau's letter indicates that this would be kept track of on a student-by- student basis in 10 or 15-minute segments. MR. STEELE responded that his understanding was that this was not student-by-student, but that a period or a day would be extended by 10 minutes and then once a month there would be an in-service day when teachers could collaborate. SENATOR WILKEN asked if a class would be extended 'x' amount of time so that when that amount of time reached the equivalent of one day off, there wouldn't be instruction that day because of the in-service/professional development day. MR. STEELE said this was correct, adding that it may be something like one half a day; it would be built into the schedule and figured ahead of time. SENATOR GREEN asked if this was the intention of this legislation, and if this wasn't a different view of what was to be addressed. CHAIR DYSON said no, that his intention was to allow local districts to craft what would fit a specific group of students or a school. He wanted to accommodate boarding schools, regional schools, and the significant interest by rural schools that kids not be gone a long time away from home. It might be that kids go to school for 10 days straight or perhaps there would be longer days, followed by a week off, resulting in kids not losing contact with their families. He told members that his children did a time and motion study at their school and out of the 7 hours at school, the most that was logged was 89 minutes of contact in a day with the teacher, once the time for announcements, going back and forth to classes, and other administrative details were discounted. He said he was interested in schools being flexible, and this has the safeguard of the commissioner having to agree with what a district does. CHAIR DYSON said he had not anticipated this banking of time for professional development, although he does not have a problem with that, as long as it meets the school board's criteria and is producing results. He emphasized getting out of the business of managing inputs and using the approach of managing for results instead. Managing for the wanted results is managing for well-educated kids. He said he wouldn't pass SB 239 out of committee today. He told the committee that he bears some of the responsibility for not making sure that the bargaining units had a chance to be active in the discussion at this point and he apologized. He said he shared Senator Green's concern regarding the last 3 lines on page 2. SENATOR WILKEN referred to page 2, line 6 and asked whether removing the word "approximate" from that sentence would be detrimental. MR. SWEENEY said he didn't see a problem with eliminating that word. 3:05 p.m. SENATOR WILKEN commented on the school districts' creativity, noting that in some cases you "give them an inch and they take a mile" and he cited examples as the kindergarten fiasco of last year, being embroiled in the correspondence issue in which schools are skirting the edges of the law and need to be reigned back in, and  SB 36, in which school districts were on the very edges of manipulating the instructional unit formula. He said he was worried that this was like handing someone an opportunity to manipulate to his/her own benefit rather than for the benefit of the system; this was something that over time could get out of hand, "because we trusted somebody." What he's seen is that some, or all school districts can't be trusted. He suggested that if someone had a specific plan, such as desiring "3 - 12's or a 4 - 10", then that plan should be brought to the Legislature so it could go through the process to either pass or not; this would also make sure that "this doesn't get out of control." At the same time, he suggested including a sunset to allow for returning to it for a "gut check" to see if it's working or not. He said to open this up scares him and is "bad law"; he hopes the bill gets worked to avoid getting to some place that would be better avoided, ten years from now. CHAIR DYSON asked Mr. Steele to relay the substance of today's discussions to Superintendent Comeau and to the [Anchorage] School Board. MR. KELLER pointed out that the use of the word "approximate" on line 6 was also on line 1 and was part of the original language. CHAIR DYSON said the hearing on SB 239 would be suspended and would be taken up [at a later date]. ANNOUNCEMENTS CHAIR DYSON told members that possibly next week he was interested in scheduling a departmental overview on the accommodations being made on high stakes tests for kids with IEPs and whether or not this was consistent with the laws. CHAIR DYSON announced there was another quick item to be discussed by the HESS committee. [This took place after adjournment.] CHAIR DYSON adjourned the meeting at 3:09 p.m.