Senate: Schools won’t get choice of 4-day week

Posted April 08, 2009, at 11:14 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Senators on Wednesday rejected a measure that would allow four-day school weeks, but did approve a “tweak” in existing law giving the Education Commissioner authority to approve longer school days to make up for extraordinary events such as many storm days.

“Are we going to have a four-day school week with much longer school days, or are we going to allow a tweak, a minor adjustment?” said Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville. “Sometimes a tweak is a good thing.”

He said the four-day school week would not help meet education goals, with students and teachers not performing at their best at the end of the longer school days they would require.

“I think these kids should be outdoors by 3 o’clock in the afternoon kicking a soccer ball around or running around a track or running cross country or playing basketball,” Mills said.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the co-chair of the Education Committee, said he had been bombarded with e-mails from parents opposing a four-day school week. He said they asked a number of tough questions about the proposal.

“What is going to happen on Fridays and who is going to pay for child care and who is going to pay these extra costs,” he said. “This is a shift, not savings.”

Sen. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, a longtime teacher, sponsored the original bill and urged passage to allow school districts to consider what is best for their area, and not have it decided in Augusta.

“I was bothered by the work session when it seemed people did not trust local school boards to do what is right,” she said.

Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville, the GOP senator on the Education Committee, supported the four-day week. She noted that the proposal was an option — not a mandate — and was a matter of local control.

“This is not going forward without your superintendent and your school board bringing this to the people in your district,” she said.

Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, said some school districts in his area have expressed interest at moving to a longer school day. He said a pilot project might prove helpful to other school districts around the state.

Sen. Debra Simpson, D-Auburn, said she is “profoundly” opposed to the four-day school week. She said Maine working families would be hit hard by the need to arrange child care for just one day a week given the lack of child care providers in many areas of the state.

“I think it would be an impossible task,” she said.

Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono, told the Senate she was upset that throughout the discussion of the bill, no one advocated for requiring students to spend more time in classrooms than the 180 days currently required by state law.

“As we fall further behind as a country in our education of our young people, this is the direction where we should be going,” she said.

The Senate did accept the committee amendment, 25-10, that would give the Education Commissioner the authority to allow schools to have longer school days for a limited time to handle problems created by unusual circumstances such as extended storm days.

The House has yet to consider the measure.

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