Barbour balks at push for shorter school year

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour opposes a plan adopted earlier this week by the Senate to reduce the required number of school days from 180 to 175, his spokesman says.
The 52-member Senate, with only eight members voting no, approved the plan as a way to save money during the state’s current budget problems.
Dan Turner, a spokesman for Barbour, said Friday, “We don’t support shortening the number of academic days. We want them to remain at 180.”
Whether the bill will reach Barbour’s desk in the form it passed the Senate is doubtful. Several key House leaders, including Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, have expressed opposition to decreasing the number of academic days.
State Superintendent Tom Burnham also opposes the idea.
But many local superintendents said they support the shorter year as a way to save money.
Under current Mississippi law, a school district must conduct 180 school days and an additional seven professional development days for teachers.
The Senate proposal would not cut teacher salaries for the shortened school year. Districts would save money on utilities, fuel and other items normally used during the school day.
But the Senate bill would require teachers to be furloughed two of the seven staff development days and would give districts the option to furlough them three additional staff development days.
Burnham and Brown both said they support giving school districts the option to furlough teachers and other staff during the professional development days.
In his original budget proposal released in November, Barbour recommended that teachers not get what is known as their step pay raise for the upcoming year. Each year, under state law, teachers receive a modest pay boost for their additional year of experience.
Barbour estimated suspending the step pay raise for one year would save $18 million. But that proposal has received little legislative support and appears dead for the session.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.