A shortened school year may have benefits, several parents said Thursday after learning of a Republican plan to cut Arizona's school year by 10 days.
For starters, there's the fact that temperatures are well into the 100s when classes begin in August, said Gilbert mom Jackie Venner, whose child is a third-grader in a charter school.
"It's still hot when they go back to school. They're not quite ready to go back yet," she said, adding that the first few weeks of school seem to be review anyway.
Because her children are young, Mesa mom Wendy Hunsaker agreed that losing 10 days in the school year probably "wouldn't make much of a difference."
Her children attend a Mesa charter school.
But Gilbert mom Katie Mozurkewich pointed out that academic expectations have increased compared to 15 or 20 years ago when the school year was shorter.
"They've increased the standards. Then to lower the number of days they have to do it - it's going to be hard on the teachers," she said.
Plus, a shorter school year could put a burden on families where both parents work.
"These days three months is hard on parents, what to do with your kids, keeping them safe. To make that longer would be hard on the families," she said.
Dawn Koberstein, a teacher at Hull Elementary School and president of the Chandler Education Association, which represents Chandler teachers, said she hopes any decision to change the academic calendar would be made thoughtfully. "I can see where some districts would be in favor of it with 10 days less to heat and cool the schools, but when you look at instructional time and younger children, sometimes it's not about the quantity but the quality and having that spread over time," she said.
The Chandler Unified School District is on a modified year-round calendar, with a shorter summer vacation and two weeks for fall, winter and spring breaks.
"I can understand they're trying to do things based on budget, and how can we make cutbacks," she said. "I hope we're doing what's best for children and education and not making our decision based solely on the budget."
The Mesa Unified School District governing board wrote a letter to lawmakers last year asking the state to lower the required number of school days in an effort to deal with budget cuts.
Mesa mom Carla Smith, who has children in elementary, junior high and high school, said she would not worry about a shorter school year for her children.
"For me, it seems our summers just keep getting shorter and shorter," she said. "For me it doesn't matter one way or another as long as the teachers are able to fit in what they need to fit in."
A group of parents, community members and business leaders are now looking at ways to save money for the Mesa district, which expects to have to cut between $40 million and $70 million next school year. Those recommendations will be given to the governing board, which will make final decisions later this spring.
Susan Udall, a member of the Transforming Education Task Force and former teacher, said she would support a shorter school year. All three of her children are graduates of the Mesa district.
She points to the time when the state lengthened the school year, just a decade ago.
"In terms of academic achievement, I don't think it made a difference to do that," she said of the added days. "That's why I think it was lost time. I think the intent was good, but teachers I've talked to think they need more time to prepare students for testing."
"As a parent, I think it's important for kids to have other opportunities to work, go to camp or do community service" during the summer, she said.