Phoenix district schools add time to school year

Two Phoenix school districts have added 20 days to their school years. The Balsz district and the Riverside Elementary School District both started this school year July 25 and will finish June 6, 2012, (Riverside) or June 8 (Balsz).

Pat Kossan  reported in The Arizona Republic reported that Balsz Superintendent Jeffrey Smith found money to lengthen the year in 2009-2010 from several sources. He used a 14-year-old state law that gives a school an additional 5 percent in per-student funding if it lengthens the year to a full 200 days.

“The law sat unused because it is difficult to fund an 11 percent increase in days with a 5 percent increase in cash.

“At Balsz, voters agreed to pay extra property taxes to help the district, teachers agreed to a 9 percent pay raise for working 11 percent more days, and federal stimulus money was available.”

This year there was no federal stimulus money. Foundations and companies offered donations. The Ellis Center of Educational Excellence, an Arizona foundation, donated $2 million over five years to hire consultants to help improve teacher training and the curriculum. “The district got $700,000 in other private and government money, as well as 24 volunteer tutors from Hands-On Greater Phoenix, a non-profit group,” Kossan said.

Kossan reported that John Huppenthal, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, “is a former legislator who sponsored the bill that provides schools extra per-student cash when they expand to 200 days.”

Huppenthal wants this amount increased so that districts “that want to try a 200-day model are able to do so.”

There are early signs that Balsz is succeeding. Both its AIMS reading scores and its percentage of students passing AIMS reading are rising sharply.

Hat tip to Louise Epstein for sending me this important article from The Arizona Republic.

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