The superintendent was explaining why he did not object to reducing from 180 to 175 the minimum days school districts must teach students. The state Senate voted to reduce the number of school days as a way to save money during the current budget crisis facing the state.
The superintendent pointed out teachers schedule a lot of field trips during those final days. No doubt, when my children were in school, they went on a lot of field trips - to museums, symphony performances, even to this Capitol building.
First of all, hopefully, field trips are not a waste of time.
Heck, if not for that field trip, many students might never set foot in a museum or hear a symphony orchestra. I am constantly amazed at the number of Mississippians who have never toured this grand state Capitol or the equally grand and just refurbished Old Capitol building, which is worth seeing not only as an architectural wonder, but as a carefully crafted museum of Mississippi history.
Field trips in themselves are not a waste of an educational opportunity - in my humble opinion. They are part of the overall fabric of a good education.
Granted, Mississippi faces dire budget woes.
Massive cuts in state government are in the process of being made.
Talk of furloughing teachers during at least their non-instructional days is increasing.
Perhaps shortening the school year is a option worthy of being explored, though I find it interesting that many of the Democratic House leadership and Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who are often at odds, agree it is a bad alternative. It is the Senate leadership pushing the idea of reducing the school year.
Many argue that reducing the school year here in Mississippi would send to the rest of the nation that proverbial bad message.
By most accounts, the state has made tremendous progress in education in recent years, and is primed to make many more strides if the current budget woes do not send Mississippi's educational system tumbling backward.
But let's be real. Mississippi is still at the bottom or near the bottom in almost every category - whether it be performance on standardized test, per pupil expenditures or graduation rates. To our credit, we are near the top in the number of professional football players per capita, yet no one is talking about cutting back on athletics.
What kind of signal does it send to the rest of the nation when Mississippi - already perceived as trailing the rest of the nation educationally - says "we're going to provide our students less education?" No doubt, that is not what a corporate chief executive officer looking to expand wants to hear.
Remember, it wasn't that long ago that we shut down school to pick cotton.
I am far form an expert, but I imagine there are times during the school year where more learning occurs that at other times. Just as in most occupations there are times that are more productive than others.
But if a period goes by where kids just aren't learning, and superintendents know about it, then it seems reasonable to ask those superintendents to do something about it.
After all, does anyone think Mississippi kids already have learned all they need to know and do not need to know anymore?
If there are schools that are just shutting down learning activity during the academic year - with all due respect - perhaps their faculty and administration don't need to have their school year shortened, but their school career shortened.
To advocate shortening the school year as a way to save money during perhaps the most difficult budget times in memory is one thing. It may be a disturbing example of just how bad the state's budget situation really is.
But to advocate shortening the school year because kids are not learning anyway seems to be an indictment of the system - or at least some in the system.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 353-3119.