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Cutting School

Is a shortened school year the best response to a budget shortfall?

Jon Cohen suggested a show two weeks ago about the length of school days in Portland Public Schools:

The Portland Public School District has the shortest teaching day of all but one other school district in the state. Why are Portland students receiving less teacher time? The district is currently negotiating a new contract with the Portland Association of Teachers and teaching time is a major issue. Shouldn’t teaching time be uniform throughout the state? And as Portland schools, particularly high schools, struggle to provide the best education options for our students, the shorter teaching day is limiting options. And as Portland competes for new business opportunities, it should be able to show that its schools are on par with competing cities.

Given the latest budget news, we thought we’d expand the conversation to include not just shorter school days, but shorter school years — something that districts around the state are now considering.

Cutting class days in response to budget shortfalls isn’t new to this state. Oregon schools made national news back in 2003 when they cut significant chunks out of the end of the school year; Hillsboro alone lopped off more than three and a half weeks. And while students don’t seem to mind, nobody else is happy: parents demand more instruction time, and teachers, administrators, and bus drivers draw smaller paychecks. But when even drastic cuts to supplies won’t make a significant difference, when districts have already limited field trips, when PE or music or art have been stripped or eliminated, where else can districts turn to save money?

If you’re a parent, do you share Jon Cohen’s frustration? If you’re an administrator, where does tinkering with school days fit into your arsenal of cost-cutting measures? What particular difficulties are you facing this year — and what are you expecting next year? (And where do this week’s snow days fit into your plan?) If you’re a teacher, would you be willing to work fewer — but longer — days for the same pay? What’s in store for students, given that a white knight for school budgets doesn’t seem to be waiting in the wings?

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