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Oxnard Schools Weigh Adding 15 Days to Year

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

High school district officials want to extend the school year by 15 days instead of 20, scaling back a much-debated proposal in an effort to lower its cost and increase the odds of state approval.

Citing a need to give students at Oxnard Union High School District’s five high schools more time to learn, trustees voted in December to boost the number of class days from 180--the national average--to 200 a year.

But Supt. Bill Studt said the original plan would have cost about $4 million annually to pay the extra salaries for teachers during the three-year pilot program. Reducing the number of days added to the school year to 15 would lower that cost to $3 million, he said.

The district is now shopping for a legislator in Sacramento to sponsor a bill that would provide it with the needed $9 million. And Studt said it is easier to go asking for $9 million than for the $12 million required for the original plan.

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School grades and test scores would still get a lift under the latest proposal, he said.

“The more days we can add on, the better,” Studt said. “But we still think we can make significant gains with 15 days. We went after 20, but realistically, we think 15 days is what we can get funded.”

The district has agreed to pay a Sacramento consultant $15,000 to write the legislation and find a backer in the Capitol. Studt said Tuesday that the consultant, Ken Hall of School Services of California, is talking to one politician in particular, and that the district should know by next week whether the lawmaker has committed.

But he declined to specify whether the legislator hails from Ventura County.

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“We are working with a number of legislators and until we can get it finalized . . . I don’t want to comment,” Studt said.

If the proposal receives state funding, the district’s 12,800 students would see seven days tacked on to the end of the 1996-97 school year.

The program would take full effect the following year, when school would begin earlier and end later than in the past. The district would also scatter added days throughout the year.

Studt plans to give district trustees an update on the program at tonight’s board meeting, which starts at 7.

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In a poll conducted by the Oxnard Federation of Teachers last year, 69% of the teachers’ union members said they opposed increasing the number of instruction days, President Darrell Larkin said.

“They are not convinced that more learning is going to take place,” he said. “They feel that 15 days is not going to make that much difference in a student’s learning.”

Despite those doubts, Larkin said teachers have joined in the planning process for the longer school year, in part to gain concessions from the district on other issues. The union and the district are entering negotiations over a new, three-year contract.

Larkin said that during talks about the length of the school year, teachers will ask for several assurances--including the ability to preserve winter and spring breaks, and stricter student attendance policies.

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Although the union has not directed its Sacramento lobbyist to oppose an extended school year bill, Larkin said, the union has not told the lobbyist to actively support such legislation either.

Several students leaving Oxnard High after school Tuesday welcomed the scaled-down proposal, but said adding class days would not necessarily provide more time to learn.

“Fifteen days is better than 20 days,” said Nancy Niwa, a 16-year-old junior. “But it’s not going to make a difference. Kids are just going to start ditching more.”

Kerri Frontino, an 18-year-old senior, said a shortened summer would have fallout by lowering student earnings from temporary jobs.

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“I lifeguard during the summer,” Frontino said. “People like me use the money for college. If they had to [extend the school year], I guess I would go for it, but there are a lot of reasons I wouldn’t go along with it.”

But senior Christine Kirk, 17, said more class days would make up for the instruction time students lose when they are scrambling to find classes and books at the start of the year.

Trustee Nancy Koch said that because the district is already crowded by more than 2,500 students, reducing class sizes would be too costly. She said lengthening the school year would be another--and cheaper--way to prepare Oxnard students for jobs in the global marketplace.

Officials have said students in Germany and Japan attend school up to 240 days a year.

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“I still think that if they are going to compete with kids who are going to school much longer, we have to look at [a longer school year],” she said.

Correspondent Catherine Saillant contributed to this story.


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