Richmond School Board members worried about students losing what they’ve learned during the shutdown want to deploy a year-round academic calendar beginning this fall.
They can’t afford it, said Superintendent Jason Kamras.
“If we add instructional days… it adds up pretty quickly. As a benchmark, to run RPS for an additional week when you think about salaries, it costs about $5 million a week,” Kamras said
Faced with a $24 million shortfall for the budget year that begins July 1 due to the anticipated financial impacts of COVID-19, the board has prioritized preserving a 2% raise for teachers; it’s unclear what the move to a year-round model would take.
Research by Harris Cooper, who served as the director of the program in education at Duke University, shows year-round school helps students of color and economically disadvantaged students the most.
That’s exactly why Sixth District School Board member Felicia Cosby favors the idea for RPS. The school system’s enrollment was 62% black and 19% Hispanic last fall, according to state Department of Education data, which categorize 55% of RPS students as economically disadvantaged.
“We will probably see significant achievement gaps between our black and brown students and their caucasian counterparts,” Cosby said.
Cosby also said it could be an opportunity to end some of the summer “brain drain” that happens when students have a break that lasts for months, which can cause teachers to spend the first month of school reviewing old material..
Fourth District School Board member Jonathan Young agrees.
“Our students start at a disadvantage and already arrive, in normal circumstances, behind the curve,” he said. “Like Felicia, I have always been concerned about taking three months off.”
The only way to do year-round school without adding additional costs would be to spread out the existing 180 instructional days in the calendar. If the point is to provide more instruction, you would need to pay teachers and staff more, Kamras said.
“That’s where things start to get expensive,” he said. “Given where things are with the budget, I don’t see the money for that.”
Kamras said an estimated $13.2 million in stimulus funds can’t be used to fund year-round school since that much of that money is being used to pay overtime for teachers, cleaning buildings, and enhancing technology.
Year-round school does not mean students wouldn’t have a break. One of the calendar models Kamras spoke of in an interview was having school for nine-week sessions, with a few weeks’ break in between. For those few weeks, he said he would like to see enrichment for students who might not be caught up with all school work. That costs money, as well.
Eighth District School Board member Dawn Page said she wants the idea to be properly vetted by the administration.
“This impacts our families,” she said. “I’m in support of it, but I just want to make sure we do the right thing. It’s an additional cost.”
The idea has been embraced elsewhere in the metro region.
Hopewell City Public Schools will switch to a year-round schedule this upcoming school year in hopes of improving equity. Like RPS, Hopewell’s school system is majority minority. Black students account for 61% of enrollment; Hispanic students, 11%. 53% of students in Hopewell are economically disadvantaged, according to the state.
In Chesterfield County, Bellwood Elementary and Falling Creek Elementary also operate on a year-round schedule.
The Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, an elementary charter school in Richmond, has a schedule that’s similar to being year-round. Kamras said he thinks it works for them, but mentioned that families choose Patrick Henry.
He and other board members hope to come up with concrete plans on how to start the school year next year, including a virtual launch if schools are to remain closed, as they have been since mid-March.