Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer says she’s not opposed to extending the school calendar, but does have some concerns about costs.

Gov. Jay Nixon wants to add six days to the 174-day minimum school year, bringing it closer to the length in most other states.

Nixon says part of the extra $66 million in his proposed education budget would help pay for added days. The governor’s agenda however has not yet resulted in a bill filing, though spokesman Scott Holste said they are optimistic one will be successful.

State law requires that school calendars have 174 days (including half days) and 1,044 hours a year.

Students in the Washington School District are in the classroom 177 days, and teachers have 182 contract days. Instructional time averages 1,059 hours, according to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Judy Straatmann.

Classroom instruction time is higher in the elementary division, Straatmann said, due to different schedules at the middle school and high school.

Costs Big Concern

VanLeer said while 180 days seems like an “academically sound and worthy suggestion,” the district must be able to pay staff and run buses for those additional three days.

The state of Missouri has failed to fund the school foundation formula as it was originally intended, she noted, and transportation funding is dismal.

“Teachers will not work more without pay and district budgets can’t pick up the additional expenses,” VanLeer said. “We also can’t sacrifice our training days.”

With the transition to more rigorous academic standards, changes to assessment and accountability, and the increasing need to technologically equip and train staff, training is an absolute must, the superintendent stressed.

“Also, the state of Missouri doesn’t assist schools in the areas of technology infrastructure/equipment, facility and safety improvements . . . and it should,” VanLeer pointed out.

“We have a great deal to work out before we can simply add days to the calendar,” she said. “I welcome the discussion, but I am somewhat skeptical.”

And VanLeer is not alone with her concerns. School officials across the state say the governor’s proposal to extend the school year raises a host of questions.

They wonder if the money Nixon wants to spend on the plan would be enough to pay for added teaching time and transportation. They question whether the funding can be distributed fairly to districts.

Until a bill is filed, the Legislature does not have a precise estimate of the cost of expanding the school year.

Bill Increases Hours

A bill filed by a former superintendent and state representative from southern Missouri may carry a version of Nixon’s idea.

Rep. Lyle Rowland, R- Cedarcreek, wants to base the calendar requirement on hours.

Rowland said his bill would increase the minimum instructional time by between 29 and 36 hours a year, which would be the equivalent of the six days proposed by Nixon.

Meanwhile, some education experts warn that simply increasing the amount of time a child spends in a classroom doesn’t necessarily lead to better grades and test scores. To be successful, schools need to use the extra time creatively to improve teaching and learning, they say.

The number of instructional hours can sometimes be more telling of how much time districts are spending on learning each year. Some rural districts have a four-day week but still satisfy the requirement for hours. A law passed in 2009 gave them that flexibility.

Only a few districts in St. Louis County already meet the 180 days in the governor’s proposal, including Clayton and Rockwood. Many more, like the Washington School District, come in at least a bit above the state’s current minimum for both days and hours.

Most states do require 180 days — Kansas has one of the longest school calendars at 186 days, while Michigan is among the lowest at 170 days.

Editor’s Note: Some of the information in this story is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.