Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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4 schools could win exemption from 180-day state minimum

By Mary Vorsino


The state's four multitrack schools would be exempted from offering a minimum of 180 instructional days next school year under bills moving through the Legislature.

The Department of Education has said that requiring the state's four multi track schools to meet the new 180-days mandate, part of a law passed last legislative session in response to teacher furloughs, would spur some unpalatable consequences -- like holding classes on Saturdays or doing away with winter break.

Under a measure before the House, multitracks would be required to offer at least 171 school days.

The campuses, which already have longer school days to make up time, would also have to mirror other public schools in the total number of hours students are in class.

A similar bill is before the Senate.

Multitrack schools have always had shorter instructional years -- but longer school days -- because of their unusual schedules, aimed at coping with overcrowding by having at least one "track," or group of students, on vacation at any given time.

"The multitrack schedule is not attractive to anyone attending or working at them, but the schools have made it operational," Annette Nishikawa, acting Campbell-Kapolei complex area superintendent, said in testimony to the House Education Committee supporting the exemption for multitracks. "With some flexibility, multitrack schools can still provide students the instructional time we all agree they need."

Melanie Bailey, who helped write the law last session, said she also supports an exemption to the 180 days as long as multitrack students are in class for the same number of hours as their peers in other schools.

"We recognize that multitrack schools are a different entity," she told the Education Committee this week.

But others question whether multitracks should be exempted.

Chris Mann, parent of a Mililani Middle School student, said students at multitrack schools shouldn't be getting a different education than those at other public schools.

Mann said he realizes parents would have to make some tough choices to meet the 180-day mandate, but added those options have never been brought to the community.

"Why don't they ask the parents?" he asked.

Mililani Middle School, on a three-track schedule, has 152 instructional days this year. The other multitracks -- Kapolei Elementary and Middle schools and Holomua Elementary School -- each have about 170 instructional days.

Regular public schools have 178 instructional days this school year. (The 180-day requirement takes effect next school year.)

In addition to the 180 days required under the law passed last legislative session, schools have to offer a minimum number of instructional hours.

Next school year, elementary schools will have to offer a minimum of 915 hours of instruction (about five hours per day), while middle and high schools are required to have 990 hours of instruction (5 1/2 -hour average).

In 2013-14, those minimums are to increase across the board to 1,080 hours.

Nishikawa said complying with the instructional hours minimum next school year will mean adding about 10 minutes to the school day at multitrack elementary schools and 31 minutes at secondary schools.

When the minimums increase to 1,080 hours a year, the school day at multitrack elementary and secondary schools will have to be about an hour longer, she said.

The DOE has said boosting instructional time for public schools will be tough to comply with and almost certainly require more money at a time when the state is addressing a budget shortfall.

The issue is one of a number the DOE and Hawaii State Teachers Association are taking up in contract negotiations going on now.

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