Budget crisis: Most districts forced to ax 5 days

  • Second graders at West Side Union School search for their desks in their rebuilt classroom that was damaged in an October, 2007 fire at the small rural school outside of Healdsburg.

More than half of Sonoma County's school districts will cut classroom days from the upcoming school year, and still more have dropped staff development days under financial pressure from California's budget crisis.

Twenty-two districts are reducing instructional time, and 12 of them are cutting five days — the maximum allowed.

Since 2000, the mandatory school year has been 180 classroom days. But the state's budget woes have prompted state officials to allow districts to cut up to five instructional days beginning in 2009-2010. Some districts went further, slicing staff development days that teachers had used for preparation, professional development and collaboration.

Teachers are unpaid for those days, saving money for cash-strapped districts.

The Obama administration has pushed for more time in the classroom, not less, and the effect of lopping up to a week from the school year is unknown, analysts said.

"California gets into these situations that have never been done before," said Michael Kirst, emeritus professor of education and business administration at Stanford University.

A 2007 University of Maryland study found third-graders performed nearly 3 percent lower on state math and reading tests when school was canceled five days in a year because of weather prior to spring standardized testing.

The study also found more than half of schools failing to meet federal benchmarks would have met the targets had schools not been shuttered those five days.

Also at play is the message that reducing the school year sends to the public, Kirst said.

"You cut the days, it sends a clear signal to parents and public about the financial distress," he said. "Often other cuts have been disguised."

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