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Longer Year, Higher Pay To Be Costly, Study Says

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School systems would have to raise their annual budgets by an average of about 20 percent in order to respond to three of the major recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education: extending the school day to seven hours, extending the school year to 200 days, and making teachers' starting salaries "market sensitive."

That is the conclusion reached in one of the first attempts to estimate the overall cost for schools of implementing the recommendations of the excellence commission, whose report--"A Nation at Risk"--was the first of a handful of major analyses of public education completed this year. Of those reports, only that of the National Science Board included estimated costs of various reform measures proposed.

The estimate of the cost of excellence commission proposals is contained in a draft report on a survey, conducted by the American Association of School Administrators, of 28 school systems of varying sizes in different regions of the nation.

The aasa notes in the report that the cost estimates are "very conservative, " and it warns that because the sample is small, it should not necessarily be considered representative of conditions nationwide.

The data suggest, however, that if all 15,885 school systems in the country needed to increase their 1982-83 budgets by 20 percent in order to implement these reforms, the total cost would be at least $21 billion. The general operating budget for the nation's schools last year was $106 billion, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Recent research by Allan Odden, director of policy and analysis at the Education Commission of the States, corroborates these estimates, though Mr. Odden does not use exactly the same variables as the aasa does in its study. He estimates, for example, that raising the salaries of all teachers by $10,000 a year, a figure about twice as high as that used in the aasa 's estimates, would cost about $20 billion nationally.

He also estimates that extending the school day to eight hours would cost "in excess of $20 billion, as would lengthening the school year by 20 percent, from the current average of 180 days to 220 days. Mr. Odden's estimates suggest that the nation's schools would have to increase their budgets by nearly 60 percent ($60 billion) to implement the three reforms.

The ecs researcher warned last week that "there is little research support for such large additional expenditures to increase school time'' and that "the learning gains associated with either extending the day or year are unknown."

The purpose of the aasa report, the association notes, is not to "condemn or support" the recommendations of the excellence commission, which issued its report in April, but to find out what it would cost school systems to implement the most "tangible" of the commission's proposals.

The report concludes that, in general, "the findings of this survey show that the cost of reform is substantial, but not outrageous." But the results of the survey, the document says, "[raise] questions about how widespread reform can be and what types of districts are most likely to be able to afford reform."

The survey indicates that the cost of putting the three reforms in place would vary dramatically from school system to school system. The Montgomery County, Md., district, for example, reported that it would have to raise its annual budget by only 11.3 percent, while the Washoe County school district, which includes the city of Reno, Nev., estimated that it would have to increase its annual budget by 36.4 percent.

Other School Systems

Of the other school systems in the survey, the Peoria, Ill., district estimated that implementing the three recommendations would raise its annual budget by 30.4 percent; the Mobile County, Ala., district estimated an increase of 13.9 percent; the Pinellas County district in Florida estimated an increase of 25.9 percent; and the Santa Ana Unified School District in California estimated an increase of 25.6 percent ($29 million). A "market sensitive" starting salary for teachers, according to the organization's definition, would be $18,720. The school systems in the survey would have to raise their annual salaries for beginning teachers by an average of $4,867, or 35.1 percent, to meet this standard.

But this estimated percentage increase also varied widely among school systems, from 58.3 percent in West Point, Miss., to 16.5 percent for Roseville, Minn. The $18,720 salary is equivalent to the lowest starting salary in a 1983 survey of professional pay scales by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The association says that because salaries for teachers, administrators, and other employees currently consume 77.8 percent of the average school system's budget, these proposed increases in teachers' salaries would require new revenue. The aasa calls for a "serious financial commitment" at the federal, state, and local levels to pay for the recommended salary increases.

The survey will be published by the association later this month.

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