Marion County’s “Solution” to the Budget Crisis

The Marion County School Board in Ocala, FL has approved a 4 day school week beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. They’ve done this due to budget constraints, of course.

As a parent, I feel that my children’s education is incredibly important. I also feel quite strongly that shortening the school week is not going to accomplish anything truly useful. The first time I heard that Marion County was considering a shorter week, the idea was that they would only go for 4 days but that those days would be extended by an hour to an hour and a half each. This still isn’t ideal, but potentially workable. There is no mention in the official announcement of an extended school day, merely that they are eliminating one day.

My children come home with homework that is material that hasn’t been covered in class. The reason? They have limited time to cover various areas, and the kids need a head start on the material so that when they begin learning it in class, it will go more quickly, according to some of the teachers.

A large part of why they don’t have enough time is FCAT. The teachers have to spend so much time focused on teaching to this test that they aren’t able to thoroughly cover the things that students really need to be taught.

They have even discussed removing music, art, and PE because they don’t have enough time to cover the other subjects that the administration feels is more important. As a mother who is in a creative profession, I find it horrifying that they think eliminating the creative outlets in school will solve anything. Science and math may be important to compete with the rest of the world in technology and economy, but music and art are still imperative. There are many creative people who would never have discovered their creativity without an encouraging art or music teacher. As a mother to 2 children with ADHD who need that physical outlet, I firmly believe that eliminating PE would be a huge mistake, and would result in many students having lower grades. With no physical outlet during the day to get rid of some excess energy, many kids (including those without ADHD) will find themselves too fidgety to sit still and focus and therefore end up scoring more poorly on both classwork and tests.

Aside from the fact that I feel this will have a negative impact on education, this will also have a very negative financial impact on parents. It will also present a very sticky dilemma for some parents.

For working parents who count on childcare in one form or another, this will have a severe financial impact. Not only will they need to pay the school’s after care program each week, but they will also need to pay a childcare center or private babysitter for an additional day each week. Most childcare centers and babysitters do not charge an hourly or daily rate; they charge by the week. Perhaps they will change their policy given such a dramatic change in the school schedule, but it’s not very likely. So now parents will be paying double the expense for childcare — an expense most working parents cannot afford.

What about the children who are too old to go to a childcare center or a babysitter, but are still too young or immature for the parent to feel comfortable with them being home alone? Most childcare centers and babysitters do not take children over 12. But what if your 12 year old can’t be trusted to stay home alone because of ADHD that might cause them to forget the stove is on, or you live in a bad neighborhood, or any other reason you might have to feel this isn’t a good idea? You can’t quit your job to stay home with them, and it’s not likely that your employer will consent to you shortening your work week to match the school week or working from home that day. Now you’re stuck choosing between your child and your job, a position no parent should ever be put in.

Speaking of working from home, what if you are a work from home parent? Often, work from home parents count on those hours that the child is at school to get the bulk of their work done, so that they can be there for their child, to help with homework, play outside and accomplish other family tasks. We often adopt a modified work schedule during the summer and other school vacations. Now, work from home parents would need to adopt that modified schedule every week instead of just occasionally. Depending on what they do, this modified schedule may not be a feasible solution every week.

It is understandable that Marion County has to find a solution to their lack of funds. It is also understandable that some of those solutions may not be ideal, and may result in some undesirable changes to the school system. But shortening the school week is much more than just not ideal and undesirable. It is a horrible idea, one that I believe will lead to lower grades, a greater financial burden to parents, and a wealth of students suffering from a subpar education.

I sincerely hope that Marion County will take the next year to reassess their situation and try to come up with other solutions to their budget shortfall.