Bill would allow flexibility in school year

School districts praise measure as it heads to state Assembly

School districts are praising a new bill designed to help them re-structure the school year.

Both teachers and legislators have thrown their support behind a Senate bill that could help school districts shorten their calendars. Districts say the measure could provide them with the flexibility needed to address long winters like this one.

Senators unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would replace the 180-day school day requirement with an hourly one – meaning kids could make up snow days with longer hours in the classroom instead of tacking on another day in June.

Both the La Crosse and Onalaska school districts have had four snow days over the last four months, a number that’s on the high end for a regular Wisconsin winter.

“We’re a hardy breed here in Wisconsin, especially in La Crosse, so when we do have these kinds of days, they’re taken haphazardly,” Associate Superintendent Steve Salerno said.

For many school districts, snow days can translate into an extended second semester, often eating into June. Under the new bill, that wouldn’t be necessary.

“We could run into a situation by where we’re not meeting the numbers of hours, why then, we would simply add on those hours instead of adding on days,” Salerno said.

Under the law, a district’s school board would sign off on changes to the school year, shifting power from a blanket law covering all Wisconsin students to each individual community. For administrators, that’s a plus.

“It just makes sense for the local leaders to make those decisions for the school districts not just in our area, but other parts of the state too,” said Charlie Ihle, transportation director for Onalaska School District.

It’s that local control that Ihle says is important to tailoring a school year to a district’s specific transportation and education needs.

“In situations like this winter and as we look at calendars down the line, [the law] could give us that flexibility to make these decisions to help the learning for kids,” he said.

After being approved by the state Senate earlier this week, the bill is currently headed to the Assembly. If passed, the law could go into effect as early as the 2014-15 school year.