On April 24, the State College Area school board was presented with a proposal that, if approved, would lengthen the school day and impact the district budget. On Tuesday, district officials are holding a Facebook Live virtual town hall to provide more information and answer questions about the proposal.
District Superintendent Bob O’Donnell and Supervisor of Elementary Education Vernon Bock will be live on the district’s Facebook page at 7:00 p.m. for the district’s first-ever virtual town hall meeting.
“Although we have a proposal forward, we are looking for feedback,” O’Donnell said. “We’re going to give a brief overview of what’s proposed, direct people to the website, because there’s a lot of information there, and get into the questions pretty quickly.”
If approved by the board, the plan would add 54 minutes to the school day for elementary students. The elementary start time would be moved from 8:44 a.m. back to 8 a.m. and the day would end at 3 p.m. instead of 2:50 p.m.
The length of the day would remain the same for middle and high school students, but the plan would push back the start and end times. Middle and high school students would start at 8:40 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m. and their day would end at 3:44 p.m. and 3:40 p.m. instead of 3:14 p.m. and 3:16 p.m. respectively.
Under the plan, elementary students would receive an additional 24 minutes per day of core instruction. The core subjects are math, English language arts, science and social studies.
A world language course would be added to the special area courses, which include art, music, library, health and physical education. The course addition would be built into the special area course time. The remaining 30 minutes would be used for an additional recess.
The plan necessitates the hiring of 10 staff members, according to O’Donnell, and would cost the district about $850,000 per year. In 2016, the district received an increase in state funding of about $600,000 per year, according to O’Donnell. In the short term, he said those funds, which have been added to the district’s capital reserves, would be used to pay for the new staff’s compensation packages. Discussions are ongoing about how to pay for the remaining $250,000 budget gap.
If the plan is approved, current faculty and staff will not receive a pay increase for working extra time. The district and the State College Area Education Association negotiated a memorandum of understanding that maintains the contract terms of the collectively bargained agreement, but provides additional planning periods if the school day is extended, according to O’Donnell.
O’Donnell said conversations about adjusting the elementary school day predate his tenure, which began in 2011. After speaking with elementary principals and teachers in 2012, he said he began to understand the core coursework scheduling challenges that exist because of the district’s six hours, six minutes school day, which is among the shortest in the state.
In July, Bock was hired as supervisor of elementary education and has since begun to work on the logistics of extending the school day. After several discussions with elementary faculty, Bock said the desire for more instruction time is clear, but in order to extend the day, transportation scheduling will need to be adjusted.
The district transports about 6,000 students to nine elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. The district also provides transportation for about 800 students who attend charter or non-public schools, according to district data.
To aid in the decision-making process, the district contracted Tyler Technologies, of Latham, N.Y., to conduct a transportation survey of the 150-square-mile district. The survey will cost the district $175 per hour, but the total is not to exceed $7,000. Results of the survey are expected by the end of the month, and the district could see an increase in transportation expenses, according to Bock.
The district is also using the results of a survey it sent to parents in 2014 to help guide the process. The survey asked about 3,400 parents with children in kindergarten through sixth grade if they “support the exploration of extending the elementary school day an additional 30-40 minutes.” Almost 1,300 parents responded and about 1,000 said yes, according to district data.
If approved, the extended school day would begin with the 2018-2019 school year. But because the survey was conducted in 2014, about 700 children whose parents responded will no longer be in elementary school when the changes take effect.
The president of the board, Amber Concepcion, said that while the cohort of the survey is not entirely representative of the children who will be affected by the change, and the plan presented to the board adds 54 not 30-40 minutes to the day, the board is confident that the results can be used.
“The survey asked if parents supported exploring an extended school day and when we got the results back, we did the exploring,” Concepcion said. “The board has not discussed the possibility of a new survey.”
After Tuesday’s Facebook Live event, O’Donnell said the district welcomes public comment at its meeting on the second and fourth Monday of each month. He added that there will be opportunities for public comment in September, when a revised proposal will be brought to the board.
“It’s important for families and residents in the district to know that they can email, call or set up a meeting with us about this issue,” O’Donnell said. “What we want to do is make sure we engage with community members around what’s been proposed so that they understand where we’re coming form and why we’re proposing this.”
A final vote on the plan is expected in October.