Gov. Kate Brown has made it clear: She wants a 180-day school year statewide, which would stretch the school year for most Central Oregon students by about two weeks. Administrators in the region’s six largest school districts agree the longer year would benefit students, but some are worried about what it would cost.
“It’s an absolutely great idea; more instruction time means better education,” said Redmond School District Superintendent Mike McIntosh.
But that would cost more money, he said.
“There’s probably slim to no chance that we could get 10 more days added to a student calendar for the same price,” McIntosh said.
Brown’s spokeswoman, Kate Kondayen, said the governor hopes to create equity for students with a mandatory 180-day school year.
“Every school and every district is different, so what we want to make sure is that every Oregon student gets the same opportunity as other Oregon students,” Kondayen said.
Oregon lags behind most states in regards to total days in school, some local administrators said.
“It’s no secret that the state of Oregon has one of the shortest school years in the nation,” Sisters Superintendent Curtiss Scholl said. “I’m supportive of (mandating 180 days), as long as we’re funded.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Oregon doesn’t have a mandatory amount of school days, unlike its West Coast neighbors Washington and California, which each require 180 days of instruction. Thirty states, plus Washington, D.C., also require 180 days or more.
The average Oregon student is in class for a little more than 170 days a year, according to Marc Siegel, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
Oregon does have minimum instructional hours per school year: 900 hours for grades K-8, 990 hours for grades 9-11 and 966 hours for seniors (half-day kindergarten is 450 hours). Most Central Oregon school districts said they met these requirements, while Culver and Redmond said they exceeded them.
Currently, none of Central Oregon’s six major school districts — Bend-La Pine, Redmond, Crook County, Jefferson County, Sisters and Culver — have students in classes for 180 days. The closest is Bend-La Pine, with 171 days for elementary students, 173 for middle school students and 176 for high school students. The other districts have between 167 and 172.5 school days per year.
Most districts have shorter schedules for kindergartners, who typically start late, and 12th-graders, who graduate early.
Some of the state’s largest districts have similar numbers: Portland and Eugene’s students (except Portland kindergartners) are in class for 174 days. Salem-Keizer’s kids have between 164 and 171 days of school. Some districts in the state meet or even exceed the 180-day goal. Malheur County School District has 180 school days. Beaverton School District has 184 days, a nine-day jump from the 2015-16 school year, according to district spokesperson Maureen Wheeler.
Every administrator in Central Oregon who spoke with The Bulletin supported Brown’s plan to lengthen the school year.
“Instructional time is important. All of us are in favor of it,” said Ken Parshall, Jefferson County School District superintendent. “(Brown) would have to allocate more dollars, certainly, to get more dates for teachers to work, but I think it would be really positive.”
Cost was a concern for some administrators. Culver Superintendent Stefanie Garber said she was concerned that the state requiring her district to have 180 school days would be an unfunded mandate. She said the district spends about $20,000 per day to keep schools running, and it would cost the district an extra $200,000 per year to reach the 180-day goal.
“If the state is going to fund that, then we’re all for it, because obviously more days is more instruction, and that’s what we’re all about,” Garber said. “But if it’s unfunded, then that presents quite a significant challenge.”
McIntosh said Redmond would face a 5 percent increase in personnel costs to bring the district to 180 school days. And although he said he would “love to have a few more days to teach my kids,” he wasn’t sure if the Legislature would even approve a 180-day law if Brown asked for it.
“It’s just going to be expensive, and I’m not sure how likely it is, given all the other demands on the budget,” he said.
Stacy Smith, Crook County School District’s director of curriculum and instruction, said he didn’t know if all of the district’s staff would like expanding the school year, but he said he supported it.
“Whatever we have to make happen, I’d be prepared to work that out,” he said.
According to Kondayen, the governor will release her budget Wednesday, which will be more detailed in how a mandatory 180-day school year would be funded. In Brown’s Education Policy Agenda, published in August, she wrote that districts that “currently fall the furthest short of (180 days)” will receive support, although it doesn’t go into specifics.
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, email@example.com