SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 28, 2013

Longer year up for debate

School board to discuss Saltonstall's extended program on April 8

SALEM — The first public discussion of Superintendent Stephen Russell’s proposal to end the extended-year program at Saltonstall Elementary School has been scheduled for the April 8 school board meeting.

The School Committee set that date this week after member Brendan Walsh recommended resolving the controversial issue before the board hammers out a budget for the 2013-14 school year.

Walsh met with some resistance from Mayor Kim Driscoll, a Saltonstall parent. She said it might be better to wait for Russell to announce the citywide enrichment programs that he is proposing for the summer of 2014 as an alternative to the longer school year at Saltonstall.

Driscoll said it would be hard to discuss changing Saltonstall’s schedule “without knowing what’s going to replace it.”

Russell said he does not expect to have those details ready in two weeks.

Saltonstall, a much-heralded “break the mold” school with a longer day and year, opened more than 15 years ago and suddenly finds itself in the spotlight.

Currently, it is in session 190 days, 10 more than other city schools, with classes through July. Teachers are paid 16 percent more for the extra hours. Russell has proposed eliminating those extra 10 days and adding summer enrichment programs for several hundred children from schools across the city, including Saltonstall.

In the past, school board members who wanted to cut back the Saltonstall schedule have argued that it is an important “equity” issue. At a time when the school district is under pressure from the state to raise MCAS scores and make other improvements to a system with a large number of children from poor families and homes with limited English, funds should be spent more evenly, they have argued.

School officials aren’t sure how much would be saved by ending the extended year at Saltonstall. Combined, the longer day and year are budgeted for an extra $300,000, but how much would be saved by cutting those 10 days depends, in part, on negotiations with the Salem Teachers Union, according to officials.

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