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L.A. Weighs Longer Day, But Shorter School Year

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Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District are weighing longer school days, but fewer of them, as an answer to a severe fiscal crisis.

Superintendent William A. Anton last week proposed shortening the school year from 180 to 163 days beginning next fall in an effort to save the district about $160 million in staff and teacher salaries and other costs.

"No one is going to think it's a wonderful idea, but nothing would illustrate to the public the fiscal crisis more than shortening the school year,'' Roberta Weintraub, a school-board member, recently told the Los Angeles Times.

Because the district faces an estimated budget shortfall of as much as $600 million next school year, the board has "to implement plans we never would have dreamed of,'' Ms. Weintraub said.

Under the plan, 30 to 40 minutes would be tacked onto each school day so that the amount of time children spend in school over the year would be the same.

The district must win a waiver from the state education department's 180-day school year requirement or risk a loss of state funding. State officials have expressed doubts whether such a waiver would be granted.

Fears of Pay Cuts

Some school-board members also expressed doubts about the merits of the proposal.

"It is ill-advised conceptually and educationally, and it will literally create chaos in a school district that is in the midst of a tremendous financial crisis,'' Leticia Quezada asserted in an interview last week.

The change in school calender, Ms. Quezada said, would have to be completed by July 1, the first day of the new school year, providing little time for the district to win state approval, negotiate union contracts to accommodate the change, or inform parents who just last August were asked to accept a district shift to a year-round schedule to cope with school overcrowding.

And teachers are reacting to rumors of impending pay cuts of anywhere from 8 percent to 20 percent.

Helen Bernstein, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, warned that district officials "will have a strike on their hands'' if they try to cut teacher pay without drastically trimming administrative costs and funding for nonessential programs.

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