Despite widespread opposition from teachers and students, Oxnard Union High School District trustees decided Wednesday to move forward with a plan to add an extra month of classes to the school year.
The governing board unanimously agreed to pay a consultant $15,000 to help district officials shepherd the innovative proposal through the state legislative process.
That consultant, Ken Hall of School Services of California, has assured the board that he would move quickly to find a sponsor for a proposed bill that would provide the Oxnard district with the $9 million it would take to pay the extra salary for teachers during the three-year pilot program.
If approved by the Legislature and the governor, the new schedule would go into effect next September, district officials said.
Trustee Robert Vallef said he supports an expanded year--despite formidable opposition--because it may be a way to improve grades among the district's 12,800 students.
"With the kind of competitiveness in today's economy, we need to do something different," Vallef said. "I just can't see where more education, more time, is going to hurt."
Patrick Campbell, 17, a Camarillo High School student, said he was outraged by the vote. Students earlier had presented the board with petitions opposing the longer year signed by 3,000 pupils--more than 20% of the district's student body.
"How can you just ignore the concerns of 3,000 students," Patrick asked loudly after the vote.
Veronica Daube, a junior at Camarillo High, said the money would be better spent building classrooms and hiring teachers. "I see it as just 20 more days of crowded classrooms."
Under the plan unveiled by Supt. Bill Studt last month, students would attend classes for 200 days instead of 180, the national average. A longer year would give students more time to learn, resulting in higher achievement, Studt has said.
The current 10-week summer vacation would be shortened to eight weeks and the remaining 10 added days would be scattered throughout the school year, Studt said.
District officials must turn to the state for aid because there is no money to pay teachers for the extra hours worked, he said.
But Studt has an uphill fight persuading instructors that extra time spent teaching will translate into better-prepared students.
In a recent poll conducted by the Oxnard Federation of Teachers, 69% of its members said they oppose increasing the number of instruction days, said union President Darrell Larkin.
And at a forum last month, teachers said they are not convinced that more time spent on educational tasks will result in higher test scores, Larkin said before Wednesday's meeting.
"It simply means you're going to spend 20 more days teaching the same thing," he said. "It means grind the wheel more and no true school reform."
Also, many instructors are disappointed that the proposal included little input from the rank-and-file instructors who must carry it out, he said. "Parents, students and teachers should have been part of the early dialogue."
Many students, including some who have circulated petitions at the district's five high school campuses, also are concerned. A schedule change could make it more difficult to find summer jobs, play on sports teams or take part in other after-school activities, students said.
Many of those unhappy with the plan spoke out at Wednesday's meeting in a room packed with more than 70 people.
"This entire endeavor has been filled with disrespect," Bill Walthall, a teacher at Hueneme High School, said before the board's vote. "Send a righteous message to parents. Vote 'No' on the proposal."
Robert Serros, chairman of the bilingual department at Channel Islands High School, said he supports the plan. Something must be done to address plummeting student achievement, he said.
"If we do not change something, we will continue to be lying to ourselves," Serros said.
But Studt said before Wednesday's meeting that he is undeterred. There is overwhelming evidence pointing to the necessity of a longer school year as a way to improve academic performance, he said.
Students in other industrialized nations receive twice as much instruction during high school than do American pupils, according to a 1994 report by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning.
American students can graduate from high school by devoting only 41% of their school time to core subjects, such as math, reading, language and science, according to the commission.
The rest of the day is eaten up by nonacademic requirements, such as AIDS education, consumer affairs, family life and driver training, the report says.
Adding 20 days would bring Oxnard's high school students closer to the academic standards in Germany and Japan, where students attend school up to 240 days a year, Studt and others said.
"It's pretty simple," Studt said. "We think teachers need more time to teach and students more time to learn. We think it's real logical."