Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/23/2004 02:49 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. 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 bill. 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.