Views mixed on Christie's call for more school hours

File photo: School children in Camden meet with Gov. Chris Christie, Mayor Dana Redd and the school district's new superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard. A proposal by Christie to extend school hours and the school year is getting mixed reviews. (David Maialetti/Staff)
File photo: School children in Camden meet with Gov. Chris Christie, Mayor Dana Redd and the school district's new superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard. A proposal by Christie to extend school hours and the school year is getting mixed reviews. (David Maialetti/Staff)
Posted: January 16, 2014

Gov. Christie's call in Tuesday's State of the State address for lengthening the school day and year drew initial support, but it also raised some questions - and some eyebrows.

His proposal came one day after he vetoed a popular bill that would have allowed a study of full-day kindergarten - an inconsistency to some observers.

Others wondered where the money and resources to support a longer day and year would come from.

And still others questioned whether any changes would be a collaboration between the state and local districts or whether they would simply be imposed.

Christie spoke in broad strokes and said the details would come later.

"This is a key step to improve student outcomes and boost our competitiveness," he said.

Currently, the state requires at least an 180-day school year, the same as the majority of states, including Pennsylvania.

According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, the average work year for teachers in the state is 185 days, with 181 days the shortest and 191 the longest.

The association voiced support for Christie's proposal.

"For more than 30 years, research has shown that increased instructional time is a key to greater academic achievement," executive director Lawrence S. Feinsod said.

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, founder and board chairwoman of Camden's LEAP University Charter School, said her school has a 200-day year, an eight-hour-base school day, plus extended week and weekend programming. But for the extra time to make a difference, she said, it has to be done right - and that isn't cheap.

"If the governor wants to do this, I applaud him, but he has to be willing to fund it and support it," she said.

Michael Gorman, superintendent of the Pemberton School District, said he would embrace both a longer day and longer school year, but noted: "There are complications."

Either would require negotiations with unions, he said. Plus, not all districts have facilities equipped for a longer school year. He said that in his district, only two of the 12 buildings have air-conditioning.

This school year, Cherry Hill added a half-hour to its school day. The district and the Cherry Hill Education Association negotiated a $2,100 additional stipend for each of its approximately 980 teachers, according to union president Martin Sharofsky.

"Who's going to pay for this?" Sharofsky asked, if longer days and hours go statewide.

"And it's not just teachers' salaries. It's everything else involved," he said, including paying for more bus service and higher utility costs.

In his address, Christie referred to the state's providing "a record amount" of school aid.

Yet there are quite a few districts that don't get the level of funding they had before Christie took office, when the state still had federal Race to the Top aid to dispense. Some advocates, like the Education Law Center, have long complained that the Christie administration continues to not fully fund the state's education funding formula.

The new proposal could make matters worse, they said.

"After four years of Gov. Christie funding cuts, many districts are reducing staff, increasing class size, and eliminating supports for at-risk children," said law center executive director David Sciarra, plus new "unfunded state mandates," like teacher evaluations.

Washington Township Superintendent Robert Goldschmidt said of his Gloucester County district: "If we could get full funding for what we do now, it sounds like a good idea to have more time in which to accomplish all of our goals and the state's mandates. But if reforms are not funded, they are just stuck in traffic on the bridge - going nowhere."

And while Christie said he viewed the kindergarten study bill as redundant given efforts underway, several stakeholders questioned his veto, given his call for more school hours and days.

Wendell Steinhauser, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, challenged Christie to pull back his veto.

"Full-day kindergarten, in districts where it does not already exist, would immediately double the length of the school day for tens of thousands of young students at a critical time in their development," Steinhauser said.

And not all were convinced that more time in school is necessarily best.

"I think there is a belief that the only place kids learn is in school. That's not true," said Scott Oswald, superintendent of the Collingswood and Oaklyn districts. "They need time to spend in their communities, to spend with their families."


856-779-3893 rgiordano@phillynews.com @ritagiordano

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|