Longer school day nixed for Pittsfield-area schools

Posted Dec. 06, 2010, at 10:42 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — The SAD 53 board’s discussions about extending the school day by 15 minutes appear to have stalled after objections by board members and teachers.

The idea, which has been considered for at least a month, in essence would have counted the school year by the minute instead of the day, creating an extra six workshop days for teachers to study student achievement data. That means that over the course of the school year, students would have had the same amount of classroom time in fewer days.

According to Superintendent Michael Gallagher, an official with the Maine Department of Education said the alternative schedule would have been the first of its kind in the state.

“There are no other school districts doing it right now,” he said. “[The DOE] thought we’d be paving new territory. They were intrigued.”

But the idea wasn’t without its problems, according to teachers who spoke at Monday’s meeting. First-grade teacher Aaron McCannell said the longer day would have added a significant burden on teachers who already are stretched too thin.

“Teachers are really feeling pushed this year,” said McCannell. “They’re stressed.”

School board member Peter Snow of Detroit said if the extra 15 minutes were placed at the end of the day, it would exacerbate an already pronounced problem of nearly empty classrooms after students on sports teams leave school early for away games.

“I just worry about those last-period classes having only two or three kids,” said Snow.

The school board reacted coolly to the idea during its meeting Monday night, with no one suggesting further pursuit of the idea.

In other business, Gallagher also said he is pursuing a five-year grant from Healthy Maine Partnerships to create a districtwide health and wellness coordinator. The grant of at least $66,500 a year could fund a half-and-half teacher-administrator position, but the school board will have to sign off on the application before it is filed.

Gallagher also sought to set the stage for a budget-building process that he said will be exceedingly difficult — even compared to the current year, when Burnham Village School and the district’s administrative building were closed to save money. Gallagher presented financial data that showed district expenditures over the years compared with state funding. The bottom line, he said, is that SAD 53 has been frugal with spending and is asking for an amount from taxpayers that is equal to what the district received 11 years ago.

With deep funding cuts anticipated as a result of federal stimulus funds drying up at the end of this school year, as well as shrinkage in other revenue streams, Gallagher said the district will be forced to ask for a property tax increase in the three towns it serves if it is to maintain current programs.

“It looks as if we’re going to have to raise more additional funding,” he said.

Gallagher is due to have his budget proposal to the school board in late January.

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