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Year-round schooling not coming anytime soon

Sunnyside School District Superintendent Rick Cole said many school districts go from traditional school schedules to year-round schooling because of enrollment and financial issues.

Right now, though, it's just an idea in the Sunnyside district, Cole said.

"There's no effort to do it," he said.

The idea has been on the minds of some Sunnyside parents since last August when Cole told the school board he'd report on the idea and how it would work in Sunnyside.

For those not familiar with year-round schooling, the concept is fairly simple. Instead of giving students three months off in the summer, those three months are spread out throughout the year.

Essentially, students go to school for three-month periods with a month off after each period.

Cole said in an town like Sunnyside, where so many students work with their families doing agricultural work in the summer, it's difficult to make the concept a reality.

"I think it's very difficult in an area that's an agricultural area," he said.

In recent years, Cole said about 600 of the district's approximately 6,000 students attend school on a year-round basis. Those students attend summer school, he said. They get just two or three weeks off between the time summer school finishes and regular school begins again in the fall.

When the issue of year-round schooling was brought up, Cole said many parents reacted very negatively to the idea.

"When it comes up for conversation, it will be a hot-button topic," Cole said.

At this point, too, with two new school board members, Cole said it's hard to gauge the interest of the board as a whole.

If the board eventually decides to opt for the new schedule, some restructuring of contracts will need to occur, Cole said.

All school staff members who only work nine months out of the year would need their contracts reworded because right now they say employees work nine consecutive months out of the year.

Cole said teachers unions have been willing to try year-round schooling without serious renegotiations of contracts in most places where districts have adopted this type of schedule.

The district could also see an increase in the amount of money they spend on several things, including utilities because the district doesn't use much electricity or other utilities in the summer, Cole said.

"What we do right now," he said, "is shut the buildings down."

With students off for just one month at a time, it wouldn't make sense to shut the buildings down the same way they do now with the summer break.

Even though there are disadvantages to year-round schooling, especially in an area like the Lower Valley, Cole said there are distinct advantages to it also.

One big advantage is in students' abilities to learn. Cole said when students aren't off for three months at a time, it doesn't take as long to get them back up to speed in terms of learning.

Another advantage is that districts who've tried year-round schooling have liked it.

Cole said a few schools in Yakima are doing year-round schooling and he said he's heard that none of those schools want to go back to a regular nine-month school schedule.

The school board will look at the issue further in March when the item will be part of a board work session.

Cole said the district began looking at the idea because research has shown it can have a positive effect on students.

"When somebody has research like that, we look at it," he said.

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