With the Anne Arundel County school system facing a staggering $384 million price tag over the next five years to build and renovate schools to house increasing enrollment, a county councilwoman thinks it's time to give year-round schools a look.
Maureen Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat who once served on the school board, has introduced a resolution that would take up Gov. William Donald Schaefer's challenge to create a year-round schooling pilot program.
Mr. Schaefer said he wanted at least one of Maryland's 24 school systems to volunteer to institute the schedule, as early as next fall if possible.
Ms. Lamb's resolution urges the Board of Education to determine if such a schedule could work countywide.
Mr. Schaefer, who made the challenge at the August meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties, suggested conducting classes all year long as a way to save on school construction costs.
There are no school districts in Maryland that have year-round schedules.
But Ms. Lamb said that if county schools do convert to a 12-month calendar, saving money should not be the only reason.
"From an educational point of view, it has to be looked at," Ms. Lamb said. "I think the governor looks at it from a financial point of view. I look at it from a financial point of view and an educational point of view. I think the kids would be better off educationally."
Teachers union president Thomas J. Paolino said his members have no objection to year-round schools, as long as teachers are involved in the planning process.
But he agreed with Ms. Lamb that the motivation has to be more than simply financial.
"If we're going to look at year-round schools as just a way to save construction funds, then we shouldn't do it," he said. "It has to be for the betterment of the [students] and the quality of the education they receive."
Ms. Lamb said that the school year, with its three-month summer break, is outmoded.
"It went out with the horse and buggy, really," she said. "Agricultural needs are no longer there. We don't have the kids who work on the farms. That was the reason for the nine-month system."
County school officials are wary of the idea.
Kenneth Lawson, the school system's acting associate superintendent, pointed out that a Task Force on Facility Needs, a 25-member group of educators, parents, politicians and business people, issued a report in April that dealt with the school system's overcrowding problems. The issue of year-round schools was considered and "they were not real intrigued with the idea," Mr. Lawson said.
The task force said that year-round schools should only be instituted as a last resort and should only include elementary school students.
The group cited concerns about the cost of installing air conditioning in all classrooms, keeping children in a family on the same schedule so vacations could be coordinated, and ensuring that high school students would not be hindered from participating in sports and extracurricular activities because of the new schedule.
Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, echoed those concerns, and added that child care could be a problem, since many older children in a family care for their younger siblings.
"How are they going to make sure . . . that all students will be off at the same time?" she asked. "Baby-sitting problems, day care problems, these are things that have to be considered in this day and age when both parents work."
Mr. Lawson said that the lack of enthusiasm shown by the task force has made the school administration cautious about pursuing the idea.
County schools would have to spend about $56 million to make sure all its facilities are air conditioned. About half of the school system's 120 facilities have air conditioning, said Michael K. Raible, the school system's director of planning and construction.
An additional headache is that schools won't be empty for an extended period, hindering cleaning and repair crews' efforts at maintaining buildings. "The asbestos removal program is going to be dead in its tracks," Mr. Raible said.
If the idea were approved, Mr. Lawson said, school administrators would need at least two years to allow for "adequate planning time and . . . time for the community to get comfortable with the idea."
School board member Jo Ann Tollenger said that the school board "has plenty on its plate to deal with," including the fallout from the Ron Price sex scandal, other allegations of child abuse by teachers, and redistricting.
"We have a heck of a lot going on right now, and you have to get your own house in order" before beginning an ambitious year-round school project, she said.
Besides, she added, there is much to learn about the concept.
"I've never liked bandwagons much anyway," she said. "Until I know what the song is."