Legislature(2003 - 2004)

02/23/2004 02:49 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                  SB 239-LENGTH OF SCHOOL TERM                                                                              
The committee took up SB 239.                                                                                                   
MR.  JOHN STEINER,  an  elected member  of  the Anchorage  School                                                               
Board (ASB),  testified that the  ASB is on record,  according to                                                               
formal board action,  as being in favor of  having flexibility to                                                               
ensure that  students have full  instructional contact  time with                                                               
teachers,  and  yet, not  be  necessarily  tied to  specific  day                                                               
limits if the equivalent contact  time can be provided in another                                                               
format.  This legislation provides  for flexibility in scheduling                                                               
and  also  for  some  local   control,  without  diminishing  the                                                               
educational services  provided to  students.  He  emphasized that                                                               
schools now, more  than ever, are held accountable due  to the No                                                               
Child  Left   Behind  progress  requirements,  the   High  School                                                               
Graduation Qualifying Exam and the  benchmark system; there is no                                                               
way  that a  school district  wants  to make  changes that  would                                                               
diminish  the effectiveness  of  education.   Therefore, he  said                                                               
concern about flexibility being abused  is also diminished due to                                                               
the  accountability procedures  now in  place.   Those procedures                                                               
and  also   the  fiscal  situation   mean  that   with  increased                                                               
flexibility,  things may  be done  more  efficiently while  still                                                               
educating students; such is the merit.                                                                                          
SENATOR   WILKEN   referred   to   the  March   3   letter   from                                                               
Superintendent Comeau  that speaks  to the  resolution concerning                                                               
restructuring  the  school  day  to  allow  for  flexibility  for                                                               
professional development.                                                                                                       
MR.  STEINER said  he has  not seen  the resolution  recently but                                                               
probably did see it at the time.                                                                                                
SENATOR  WILKEN  expressed  his concern  with  students  starting                                                               
their day  10 or 15  minutes earlier,  and then keeping  track of                                                               
that time  - banking  that time  - so that  when enough  time had                                                               
accumulated  there would  be  a  shortened day  once  or twice  a                                                               
month.  Because of being  on a shortened schedule, teachers would                                                               
have more  time off  for professional development.   He  said the                                                               
purpose seems to  be to manipulate the time in  class so teachers                                                               
could   have   more   time  for   professional   development   or                                                               
collaboration (in-service days).  He  noted that one thing people                                                               
in  Fairbanks don't  want is  more in-service  days and  said, "I                                                               
think you're setting yourselves up  for a paperwork nightmare and                                                               
I don't understand  the reason why, unless it is  so important in                                                               
your district to have more in-service  days."  He said he thought                                                               
the bill had big problems.                                                                                                      
MR. STEINER  said he  didn't view this  specifically as  more in-                                                               
service days,  although professional  development is  one option.                                                               
Collaboration is  another option, and  it addresses a  problem in                                                               
middle schools  in particular where  there are seven  periods per                                                               
day,  allowing   for  only  one   period  per  day   for  teacher                                                               
collaboration.   Collaboration helps to integrate  those classes,                                                               
and because of budget cuts,  teachers are having less opportunity                                                               
to  compare  notes  or  to  collaborate,  and  this  is  counter-                                                               
productive.    He  suggested  doing a  pilot  project  to  assess                                                               
whether  this  works  or  is an  administrative  nightmare.    He                                                               
referred to  a charter school  that has  operated for years  on a                                                               
four-day  schedule, and  although there  has not  been a  problem                                                               
associated with that  schedule, now it isn't  allowed because the                                                               
new commissioner interprets  this language as, "I  don't have the                                                               
flexibility to do that."                                                                                                        
MR. STEINER continued  that the goal of SB 239  is to provide for                                                               
that flexibility.   There has  been some talk in  districts about                                                               
possibly  going to  a  four-day week  at  certain schools,  which                                                               
would  save a  variety  of costs  such  as transportation  costs.                                                               
"Whether that's a good thing or not,  I don't know.  But it gives                                                               
a local district an  option to do that at least  for a period, as                                                               
one of the tools in the  toolbox to deal with our short budgets."                                                               
He  continued  that because  of  the  accountability measures  in                                                               
place, "I don't think it will be  abused, I think it will be used                                                               
carefully."  He suggested that  if it doesn't work, educationally                                                               
and administratively, it wouldn't be  used, but having the option                                                               
would be desirable.                                                                                                             
VICE CHAIR  GREEN asked  Senator Wilken if  he wanted  to re-work                                                               
the bill, noting that it  would certainly be discussed with Chair                                                               
Dyson before moving it on.                                                                                                      
SENATOR WILKEN  responded that  some changes need  to be  made to                                                               
the  bill,  as this  is  an  "open-ended opportunity  for  school                                                               
districts to cheat  the system."  He said this  is something that                                                               
in  five years  from  now will  be looked  back  upon and  "we'll                                                               
wonder why  we have  14 different schools  around the  state with                                                               
different systems."   He suggested  that if the  Anchorage School                                                               
District wants to  do this, for example, ASD  should approach the                                                               
commissioner and make a request for  x,y, and z and then have the                                                               
commissioner  approve  those requests  for  a  certain period  of                                                               
time.   If Valdez or  Fairbanks wants  to have a  modified school                                                               
year, the request to the  commissioner should be on record, maybe                                                               
even presenting  the case to  the Legislature.   "I can  see this                                                               
turning into a  rat's nest; I don't trust  our school districts,"                                                               
he added.                                                                                                                       
MR. STEINER said  the bill speaks of equivalence,  and his notion                                                               
is that  someone has  to conclude  whether there  is equivalence.                                                               
His assumption  is that  this won't  be a  free ticket  for every                                                               
district to  what it wants  because either through  regulation or                                                               
policy, school  districts will be  required to  get certification                                                               
indicating,  "Yes  this  is  appropriate,   we  agree  that  it's                                                               
equivalent."  Equivalence  is the basis upon which  it would have                                                               
to be  reviewed.  For example,  if a district decided  upon three                                                               
12-hour  days, the  commissioner would  be appropriate  in saying                                                               
that equal hours do not mean  equivalence.  Instruction has to be                                                               
effective.    The commissioner's  authority  is  implicit in  the                                                               
SENATOR WILKEN offered  that the problem is that  somebody has to                                                               
decide what "equivalency"  means, and someone has  to decide what                                                               
a "school day" is.   It's not defined in the bill.   He said he'd                                                               
be glad  to work  with Chair Dyson  on this, but  as it  is today                                                               
it's a bad bill.                                                                                                                
There being  no further  business to  come before  the committee,                                                               
VICE  CHAIR  GREEN adjourned  the  Senate  Health, Education  and                                                               
Social Services  Standing Committee meeting  at 3:23 p.m.  SB 239                                                               
was held in committee.                                                                                                          

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