A bureaucratic boondoggle in the western San Bernardino County, California school district will cost the students their summer breaks — the schools inadvertently introduced a school-time shortfall amounting to two school days' worth of instruction time over the entire school year. Due to a quirk of regulation, they have to keep the schools in session for an extra thirty four days or lose $7 million in funding.
"We made an error on the minimum days of about five minutes," said Dickson Principal Sue Pederson. "Realistically, that's our accounting mistake as adults. We're unfortunately making the children pay for it by making them give up their summer."
Students at each school exceeded the state's requirement of at least 54,000 minutes of annual classroom time, but the problem arose in the district's minimum days. Schools typically have one shortened day per week, allowing teachers to use the remaining time for planning and parent conferences. Under state law, these days must be at least 180 minutes, and the daily average classroom time over 10 consecutive days must be 240 minutes.
An internal audit in early May discovered that 34 minimum days had been 175 minutes at Dickson and 170 at Rolling Ridge, said district spokeswoman Julie Gobin. That adds up to a shortage of 170 and 340 minutes, respectively, which could be made up in one or two school days. But under state law, these too-short days do not count at all, meaning that all 34 must be made up to avoid a state penalty of more than $7 million.
"The penalties for not meeting the instructional time requirements are high, much higher than just making up of the time," said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. "It was the intent of the Legislature to make the penalties so stiff [in order] to discourage districts from shaving off minutes here and there."