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Longer school year unlikely, given fiscal crunch, state schools chief says


The enormous costs associated with lengthening the school year have been overwhelmed by the state's growing fiscal crisis, and the idea is practically dead for now, state school Superintendent Joseph L. Schilling said Friday.

The State Board of Education had agreed in September to seek a law next year that would allow it to extend the school year from 180 to 200 days -- five days a year over four years. The cost to the state would have been $53.3 million for each of the four years, starting in 1993.

With the news this week of the state's $423 million projected budget shortfall, Dr. Schilling said the idea of lengthening the school year is being put on hold, even though he still intends to present it to the governor for consideration.

"We're not going to do that this year," he said. "We just don't have the money for it." The idea still has merit, but it will have to wait forbetter economic times, Dr. Schilling said, after remarks to a Maryland Chamber of Commerce conference on business and education partnerships.

Instead of focusing on the school year, Dr. Schilling said, he hopes to reshape Maryland's secondary education system by providing money to schools that devise their own plans to improve student performance.

The idea, called school-based management, would be driven by School Improvement Challenge Grants to schools that choose to come up with research-based strategies to improve students' math, science, reading and writing performance, Dr. Schilling said.

"That's school-based management in its purest form, folks," he said.

The cost of providing the $300,000 grants in the first phase of the program would be about $32 million, with 50 schools being funded next year and another 50 the year after. The program is designed tocontinue after that as the General Assembly sees fit, Dr. Schilling said.

The plans will have to address the results of student testing that will begin in the spring. The tests will compare student performance to standards "designed to reflect where we need to be five years from today," Dr. Schilling said. If a school that receives a grant fails to show within three years that students are improving, the money will be cut off, he said.

To pay for the grants, the state will have to consider not only new funding but shifting some money currently spent on things like teacher Social Security and retirement funds.

Because the state's share of those payments is based on the underlying teacher salary, Dr. Schilling said, wealthier counties that pay their teachers more receive a disproportionate share of state education money. That may have to change if these new programs are to be considered, he said.

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