Year-round schooling gets top billing at tomorrow's forum on the future of education in Howard County, with two national experts on the trend scheduled to speak.
The forum, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at Ellicott City's Centennial High School, comes as Gov. William Donald Schaefer pushes counties to try year-round schooling as early as next year, with Howard as a pilot.
Tomorrow's forum "is not a debate over whether we should or should not have year-round schools," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey. "It's a learning experience to help people learn more about year-round schools so they can know more for themselves."
At tomorrow's event, Charles Ballinger, executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education, will discuss the trend. Dianne Locker, year-round specialist for Orange County, Fla., public schools, will explain how year-round schooling works.
Both will answer questions from the audience after speaking.
Year-round schooling is seen as a way to cope with increasing student enrollments at a time when many aging schools require millions of dollars in renovations.
State and local officials, for example, project a 150,000-student increase in the state's public school enrollment by 2004.
In Howard County alone, school officials expect to spend $300 million during the next 10 years to build more than 10 schools and renovate more than two dozen aging ones.
Education officials estimate that year-round schooling can increase capacity by 25 percent to 33 percent at each building with a "multitrack" schedule, eliminating or slowing the need for costly construction of new schools.
A multitrack schedule, used by school districts in more than 25 states, requires that students attend 180 days of school on staggered schedules throughout the year and that schools never shut down for a summer break.
Some school districts with multitrack systems have students attend school in four nine-week sessions, with periodic three-week breaks.
Howard officials have not decided whether to implement a year-round schedule and have said they would need at least two to three years before they could begin a pilot program.
Dr. Hickey said that a year-round program limited to the southeastern, northeastern and western portions of the county could save as much as $60 million.
"That kind of savings is pretty clear, but we won't know what kind of expenses we will have," Dr. Hickey said.
The very talk of year-round schools has some parents worried.
Columbia parent Kathy McDonaugh -- who moved out of San Diego in 1990 in part to get away from year-round schooling -- testified at an August school board meeting that year-round schooling would be a disaster.
In San Diego, three of her children followed year-round schedules and one remained on a traditional schedule. She had difficulty keeping up with their schedules and had a hard time doing family activities, she said.
"The children were treated more like cattle," she said. "They were herded in and out. The children were numbers. Very good teachers were put under stress."
She said that if she had known Howard County was considering changing to a year-round schedule, she would have moved elsewhere.
"My kids definitely did worse" in year-round schools, she said. "They were bringing home much more homework. They were not being explained to well in the classrooms."