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OPINION - Year-round school

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The Wausau School District is considering its long term space-needs. Enrollment is projected to grow about 5-percent. Wausau has two high schools and two middle schools – both are in relatively good shape in terms of space-needs and physical plant. Things are uneven at the elementary school level. Some schools are overcrowded, others have space available. Some schools are older and need renovations, others are more-modern buildings.

Elementary school maps could be re-drawn. Some buildings could be renovated. Some buildings could be closed and replaced with newer neighborhood schools.

The school district announced four workshops to review the issue. They’re also spending about $40,000 to hire a reputable architectural firm, Plunkett Raysich, to make recommendations. There’s nothing wrong with any of this.

But there’s another option that needs to be discussed: year-round schooling.

The students in a school would be divided into four “teams”.  The school year is divided into two-week sessions.  In the first session, teams A, B, and C go to school. Team D is on vacation for two weeks. In the next session, teams B, C, and D go to school. Team A is on vacation. Each student is in-school for six weeks and then gets two weeks off. But there’s no summer vacation… the two-week rotation continues year-round.

Is it a perfect solution? No. Many teachers got into the profession, in part, because they like having summers off. In other districts, personnel costs rise between 8-10% as staff is transitioned to a year-round work schedule --- like all other professional jobs. Some parents also like having summer vacation with their families.

But there is substantial upside. Under the year-round model, each school building can serve 25-percent more students. Academic studies show that students forget some of what they’ve learned during a longer 3-month summer vacation. That ‘brain loss’ is lessened under a year-round plan.

Ultimately this is a matter of cost. Construction is very expensive. One of the problems with hiring an architectural firm as a consultant to study overcrowding is that they’re in the business of building things. Of course they will make shovel-in-the-ground recommendations. If there’s a lower-cost alternative that saves taxpayer dollars, it must be considered.

Chris Conley