MORRISTOWN - Ohio Gov. John Kasich's school funding formula disappointed school officials whose state funding would remain flat for the next two years, but Union Local Superintendent Kirk Glasgow is pleased one proposal could give schools more flexibility with their calendars.
Proposed Ohio House Bill 32 would allow schools to change the way they design their yearly calendars by requiring districts to ensure students are in class for a certain number of hours rather than for the current 182 days. The bill states schools "shall be open for instruction with pupils in attendance, including scheduled classes, supervised activities, and approved education options but excluding lunch and breakfast periods and extracurricular activities" for 455 hours each year for half-day kindergarten programs; 910 hours annually for full-day kindergarten and grades one through six; and 1,001 hours a year for grades seven through 12.
The bill notes that secondary students' school days would be at least five hours long, with a few exceptions. Primary students also would have five-hour minimum days with two recess periods.
Students exit Union Local High School at the end of classes last week. Proposed legislation in Ohio could lead to changes in the length of school days and school years.
A district that opts to retain a 182-day calendar would need to have older students in class for five and a half hours daily to meet the 1,001-hour requirement. Increasing the length of day to six hours would see students complete 1,001 hours in less than 167 full days.
Glasgow pointed out that Union Local's school days already are longer than required by the state. He believes that extra time in the classroom could help his district cover calamity days - currently limited to five days each year that do not have to be made up - without having to add days to the school year.
"We'd be in very good shape," Glasgow said. "It could allow for more professional development and give us more flexibility in planning."
Larry Elliott, superintendent of the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District, agrees that defining a school year in terms of hours rather than days could help districts make up time missed due to snowy weather or other emergencies, but he has other concerns about the proposal.
Citing the short attention spans of very young children, Elliott said he believes extending the length of school days could be less effective than spending more days in the classroom. He said this is especially true for the primary grades, where the fatigue and stress of a longer day could take a toll on a child's capacity to absorb and retain information.
Switzerland of Ohio is the state's largest school district in terms of geography, drawing students from all of Monroe County and parts of Belmont and Noble counties. Its 546 square miles of territory create transportation challenges that mean its various schools do not operate on exactly the same daily schedules. As a result, he said, schools in the system do not routinely exceed the required length of day as Union Local's schools that occupy a single, centrally located campus do. So, Switzerland would not see the same benefits from a school year structured according to hours rather than days.
Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said HB 32 is designed to enhance local control of education. While districts would be required to meet the mandated numbers of classroom hours, they would not be forced to make changes to their calendars, which should already meet the hourly requirements. Instead, he said the legislation would allow districts to adapt to their own unique circumstances.
For example, Ash said districts near the state's two amusement parks might decide to lengthen their school days and hold classes only between Labor Day and Memorial Day to give students better opportunities to seek employment at the parks.
For more rural districts like those in the local area, Ash said the proposed bill could "eliminate calamity days" and the need to make them up at the end of the school year. A district that canceled classes repeatedly due to snow could simply lengthen the remaining days of the school year to complete the necessary hours, he said.
He also said some districts might opt to concentrate more instructional time in longer school days prior to high-stakes proficiency testing and the Ohio Graduation Test held in March, then reduce the length of days following those tests.
He stressed that districts would not be allowed to reduce the number of school days in a week, so parents need not worry that their children would be in school only three or four days a week.
Acknowledging concerns like Elliott's, Ash said that is the reason the legislation is designed to be "permissive."
"It's entirely possible" a longer school day could be hard on younger students," Ash said. It's a decision that has to be made locally. We don't want situations where we're taking kids home in the dark.
"Again, it's a decision that's best made at the local level, where officials can take into account geography, the culture of the district and the desires of the parents and staff," he continued.
Kasich's spokesman Rob Nichols said Kasich favors the proposal because it would meet the demands he has heard from educators across the state.
"This is purely giving superintendents and districts what they want," Nichols said. "This is something we've head over and over: 'Give us this flexibility.'"
School districts would not be permitted to reduce the number of hours in a school year from the number of hours its schools were open for instruction during the previous school year, and boards of education would be required to coordinate any changes with appropriate vocational schools.
HB 32 was introduced Feb. 5 and has not yet faced a vote in the House or Senate. It is similar to HB 191, introduced in November, which did not come to a vote in 2012.
Teachers' unions likely would need to address the provisions of HB 32 in their collective bargaining agreements if it would become law. The Ohio Education Association - the state-level union - has not announced its position regarding HB 32, but it opposed HB 191.