Miss. Senate gives schools option to reduce days

Published 2:40 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

The Mississippi Senate has voted to give school districts the option of keeping children in class five fewer days for each of the next two academic years.

That would take the academic year from 180 days to 175.

“I’m trying to find a way to make school districts more financially viable,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, who co-authored the proposal to reduce the school year.

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Shortening the school year would not harm the overall educational outcomes of the state in the long run, but would save school districts money on operational costs, Carmichael said.

Individual school boards would have the discretion to adopt the shortened academic calendar.

Opponents felt the proposal sent the wrong message.

The last thing the nation needs to hear is Mississippi is going to have less education for its children, said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson.

That the measure would reduce costs for the school districts is not in doubt, Blount said. However, educating children less is not the way the districts should be cutting costs, he said.

“This confirms what I believe is a false perception of this state, that Mississippi isn’t committed to education,” Blount said.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, called the bill an extraordinary step backward for the state.

The bill also includes a measure to furlough school district staff, including teachers and administrators, for up to five days. The furloughs, which are unpaid leave days, could begin during the current school year and continue through the 2011-12 academic year.

The furloughs for the current year could be taken at the discretion of the school boards. For the two subsequent school years, two furlough days would be mandatory, but school districts could chose to institute three additional furlough days. None of the furlough days could be taken during classroom instructional days.

The bill must go back to the House, which could either accept the Senate’s proposal to shorten the school year or seek final negotiations on the bill.

House education committee chairman, Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said he was against the idea of a reduced school year, but in favor of allowing districts to set furloughs.

Mississippi already has enough problems without reducing the academic days, Brown said.

While the districts might save some money on transportation by shortening the school year, he doubts the measure would save enough money to make the trade-off worthwhile.

“It’s not very good educational policy,” Brown said.

The bill is House Bill 1170.