Adamson unsure about longer school day

Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Pamela Adamson said on Thursday that she still needs to be convinced to get behind the idea of cutting 37 days from Clayton Schools academic calendar, while tacking two extra hours onto each school day.

The radical changes to the school calendar are among the options to be considered in budget-reduction discussions. Superintendent Edmond Heatley presented the school board the options earlier this week, in a package of proposals that, he said, could save the district $75.1 million.

The school system needs to make enough reductions to cover a budget deficit that is expected to grow to $49.2 million the summer of 2013, the superintendent told board members on Monday.

According to Heatley's presentation, making the changes to the school year, and school day, would save the district a projected $1.26 million a year, in operation costs, plus another $2.8 million per year in transportation costs.

Adamson, who is a retired educator, said she has gotten 10 phone calls from people who support the change, since Monday. She said, "We've got to cut money, that's for sure," but she added that she is worried that children are already tired at the end of the current school day, and may not be able to handle two more hours in class.

"I'm just not sure the kids will be able to take it," she said. "Somebody is going to have to talk me into believing this is good for children."

The school board is scheduled to review Heatley's budget-reduction options at a board retreat on Saturday, beginning at 8:30 a.m., at the S. Truett Cathy Professional Learning Center, which is located at 1087 Battle Creek Road, in Jonesboro.

Since board retreats are gatherings of the entire school board, and are not classified as executive sessions, they are open to members of the public.

The budget-reduction discussion is scheduled to be the first thing board members talk about, and they are scheduled to spend at least an hour-and-a half on the topic, according to the agenda for the retreat.

The agenda shows that board members are also scheduled to go over several other topics, including Roberts Rules of Order, the roles and responsibilities of the board and superintendent, the state's new model code of ethics for school boards, and creating an online survey of school board effectiveness that members of the public would be allowed to fill out.

But, Adamson said the focus will be on dealing with the district's budget concerns. "That'll be the big issue we deal with," she said.

On Monday, Heatley admitted to school board members that cutting the length of the school year 37 days was "unique." He said that adding two hours onto the length of the school day would ensure that students get the same "number of instructional minutes" as they get now.

"It's something we would like to research, to see if we can pull it off," he said.

Adamson said Peach County Schools, which went to a four-day school week two years ago, has had some success with its schedule, but she added that it is a "small, rural school system," in comparison to Clayton County Schools, which is one of Georgia's largest urban school districts.

Still, she said, Peach County has not been using its current schedule long enough to provide data on its long-term effects on student achievement.

The idea is already stirring up concerns among educators in the district, according to the head of the Clayton County Education Association, whose membership includes thousands of school system employees.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook all week," said Sid Chapman, the group's president. "They [school system employees] are concerned about this, and feel it is unreasonable. They feel it is not healthy for them, or the children, and it is just too long of a day."

Chapman said educators are "definitely organizing" for a fight with district leaders over the school year calendar.

Some of the other options Heatley has presented include delaying textbook purchases, cutting 46 consultative teacher positions, eliminating meals at school board meetings, and cutting back, or eliminating all together, the art and music programs in elementary schools, and cutting back on the elementary school physical education program.

School board members, however, were hesitant about eliminating elementary school fine arts programs, or cutting back on elementary school physical education, on Monday.