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L.A. Schools Vote on Whether To End Year-Round Schedules

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Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District were counting votes last week to determine which of about 450 campuses in the 700-school system would cease operating on single-track year-round schedules and return to traditional school calendars.

In allowing parents and school employees to vote on the issue, school board members backed off from a districtwide year-round calendar that went into effect in the fall of 1990. The board was responding to longstanding concerns about requiring schools without air conditioning to operate year round.

In summer, members noted, the district's schools in the San Fernando Valley can get up to 30 degrees hotter than those elsewhere, with classroom temperatures climbing above 100 degrees.

"Every August and September since we adopted the calender, we have just been under siege from the media, teachers, and parents with horror stories,'' Mark Slavkin, a member of the school board, said in an interview last week.

About two-thirds of the schools in the system have been on a single year-round track for the past two years. Students in those schools all follow the same August-to-June schedule, with six- to eight-week winter and summer breaks.

The other schools in the district are on multi-track schedules, which they began adopting in the mid-1980's as a means of dealing with overcrowding. Groups of students in those schools follow staggered schedules in which 90 days of school are followed by 30 days off.

Aid for Multi-Track Schools

Out of a belief that the multi-track year-round schools ultimately save construction costs, the state has provided multi-track elementary schools with about $250,000 each and high schools on such schedules with about $640,000 each to install air conditioning.

The schools on single-track schedules, which were adopted not to address overcrowding but for their perceived educational benefits, have received no state funding for air conditioning and generally have had to go without it.

The single-track version of year-round schooling has cost the district an additional $4.2 million per year, primarily for maintenance, according to district officials, and some board members had proposed eliminating that calendar to help deal with the district's budget crunch.

All Los Angeles schools were allowed to vote on the year-round-schooling issue last month, but only single-track schools have the option of changing to a traditional schedule. For those on a multiple track, such votes are merely advisory.

Each of the district's 49 high school complexes, which consist of a high school and feeder elementary and junior high schools, will make separate decisions based on the will of the majority of staff members and parents voting in their schools.

San Diego Studies Issue

Even as Los Angeles schools were counting votes, officials of the San Diego city school district last week were conducting a study to determine if their district should allow additional schools to adopt year-round schedules, which have been blamed for high summer absenteeism and a resulting loss of state aid.

After voting this spring to give the go-ahead to eight schools that were well into the process of planning single-track year-round schedules, the San Diego school board declared it would not give such approval to other schools until it studied the educational value of year-round schooling and considered alternatives to its present year-round calendar, under which school starts in July.

"It is difficult to make an unqualified argument that, in all incidents, year-round schools will improve student achievement,'' Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant said last week.

"If you look at the studies that have been done, the results are mixed,'' said Mr. Payzant, who has been nominated by President Clinton to be the U.S. Education Department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

Nationally, supporters of year-round schooling have increasingly cited academic benefits as a reason to switch to such schedules. (See Education Week, Feb. 24, 1993.)

Vote in Albuquerque

In Albuquerque, N.M., meanwhile, eight of 11 multi-track schools and six of 14 single-track schools that held referendums on their year-round calendars last month saw parents and staff members opt to return to traditional schedules.

An additional 17 schools there that had the option of adopting a single year-round track voted in March to remain on traditional calendars.

All of the school votes, however, were considered advisory, and the school board was expected to take a final vote on the schedules this week.

Earlier this spring, a school advisory council in Orange County, Fla., fought that district's attempt to take the school off a traditional calendar, and asked that the school be considered separately from 21 others that the board was voting to place on year-round, multi-track schedules. The board in April denied the request, however, and voted to place all 22 schools on the new calendar.

Opposition Called Isolated

Charles E. Ballinger, the executive director of the National Association for Year Round Education, last week described the spate of possible moves away from year-round schedules as fairly isolated incidents triggered by unique local concerns, and maintained that year-round education continues to grow in popularity.

"Our anticipation,'' he said, "is that there will be anywhere from 30 to 50 new school districts in the nation involved in year-round education this next school year.''

A similar view was expressed by Tom Payne, a consultant in charge of year-round schooling for the California Department of Education, who said he expects dozens of additional schools around the state to adopt year-round schedules by July.

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