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Iowa City School District officials say cost is most important concern when looking at lengthening school year

BY JORDYN REILAND | APRIL 18, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa City School District officials say cost will be the biggest factor if legislators continue their discussion on lengthening the school year in the next legislative session.

"We are very dependent on the state for our funding," said Superintendent Steve Murley. "If the state is able to allocate [more] dollars, it could offset the costs."

Part of Gov. Terry Branstad's recent education proposal recommends the Legislature create a task force to study the approach to take — whether the school year should be longer, the days should be longer, or if changes should apply to only selected school districts.

"This is an issue the governor wants to explore more with Iowans and what makes sense under which circumstances prior to taking a position," wrote Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad, in an email.

Iowa and 32 other states require schools to be in session for 180 days and approximately 28 hours in any consecutive five-day period, according to school officials.

Jim Pedersen, the Iowa City School District director of human resources, said the district has a $160 million budget. Extra school days would require an additional funding.

If legislators decided on a longer school year, School Board members said they'll need to carefully examine how to compensate teachers and faculty members for the extra time.

"I think they'd really have to look at compensating those teachers for extra hours," said board President Marla Swesey.

Teachers would have to be paid over $300,000 for every day the school year is extended Pedersen said.

Board member Sally Hoelscher said a longer year could help students retain knowledge typically lost during long summer breaks.

"One of the big advantages is the prevention of the loss of knowledge over the long break," she said. "If this lengths of the breaks are shorter, you don't have that loss of knowledge."

However, she said, planning family vacations could also become difficult with a longer school schedule.

"From the standpoint of a parent, I always wanted to be able to take vacations in non-tourist season times," she said.

The lack of air conditioning in some schools would make it difficult to spend more time in the classrooms during the summer, she noted.

Swesey said education officials should look into other means of lengthening instruction time.

"I think maybe the best thing to do is to look at the hours in the school day," Swesey said. "I'm not sure if I am for more days [on the school calendar]."

However, Hoelscher said the district plans to deal with more time-sensitive issues before beginning to tackle school-year issues during the next legislative session.

"If the district were to seriously look at it, certainly we would need to look at both of the options and decide which is the best way to go," she said.

DI reporter Derek Kellison contributed to this story.


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