Last school year, Spokane Public Schools decided against making up the four days that schools were closed because of snow. This winter, five more days were missed and the district will make up all of them. On the surface, the difference may seem contradictory, but it’s more a case of the district learning lessons and making the right choice this time.
To refresh memories, the district last year requested and was granted a state waiver for the four days schools were closed because of snow. Officials thought this would give them more flexibility in deciding to how to make up for lost instructional time. Instead, they found themselves ensnared in employee contract language that stated that if the school year were extended despite a waiver, some staff would have to be paid for the extra time. So they decided to forgo the four days.
This year, the district chose not to ask for a waiver, because it wanted to reach 180 days of instruction without incurring those employee costs, which the district says would’ve been $1.2 million a day. Also, as fair warning, it added snow days to the school calendars that are sent home with students at the beginning of the year.
Last year, the district was out of practice in dealing with snow days. There hadn’t been any since Ice Storm in 1996. It ran a clumsy phone poll and reported that residents overwhelmingly wanted to skip the four days. The poll allowed for people to vote as many times as they wanted, and the Spokane Education Association president confessed to voting more than once. She probably wasn’t alone.
But such a decision shouldn’t be a popularity contest, so it’s good that the polling idea was dropped this time. Instead, school board President Rocky Treppiedi said, “We believe that the best way for our students to meet the high expectations we as a district, state and country have for them is to be in school the full 180 days, which is why we have built snow days into the school calendar. Education is our priority and responsibility.”
That’s a message the district needed to send.
The state has settled on 180 days as the time needed for an instructional year. High expectations have been placed on schools and they keep rising. Curricula have been beefed up. The number of credits in core courses needed to graduate has been raised. The Legislature is in the midst of defining what “basic education” means and how it will come up with the money necessary to finance an expanded definition. On the local level, the district is asking voters to approve a bond this spring.
In the face of all that, it would be contradictory to blow off five school days – and nine over two years – as if they didn’t matter.
No doubt, extending the school year by three days and canceling two other days off will be an inconvenience to many people. But those concerns are ancillary to the state’s paramount duty, which is to educate children.
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