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How to save money in education

Posted: April 15, 2012 - 12:10am

For quite some time I’ve had an idea to save money for the Juneau School District. It’s been my understanding that the administrators of Juneau, the governor, and the school board all wish to save money, and that they are open to new ideas. My idea, however, has gone somewhat unnoticed within education. I’m curious what the public would think about my plan.

For centuries we, in America, have used an agricultural approach to the school year. This method is outdated at best, and detrimental to our pocketbooks at worst. The reason I write this is due to the fact that the most expensive time to operate schools in Alaska has got to be during the winter.

During the winter months the schools have to stay heated. There is little light outside, so all classroom lights are utilized. To top it off, we have to battle with snow which we pay maintenance to come and clean up.

We don’t have to take summers off from school. There is no golden rule that states schools must stay open in the winter and closed in the summer - this is simply something that we do. What is the purpose of summers off in this day and age?

Some people might argue that there are families that need the summers off for subsistence reasons, but I think that this is a way to use diversity to avoid change. The subsistence issue is not an issue that the majority of the parents are going to have. For those who simply must have the summer off, there must be some way to still educate them.

What about school contracts? Would the district have to come up with a whole new contract for the teachers? Yes. However, as far as I can tell, the negotiations are going terribly anyways, and it seems like our district has rewriting contracts on the mind, as the majority of the articles within the contract are now open for dispute. Since we spend a lot of money keeping schools open through the winter, and since contracts are currently being disputed, it would seem that right now is the perfect time to propose an alternate school year.

My opponents within education will point to other arguments to dissuade people from my thinking. One argument I’ve dealt with is the “Summer is the most beautiful season in Alaska. Why should we miss our summer?” argument. I find it strange that when we look at why the school year is what it is, the immediate reaction is for teachers to try to decide what is best for teachers. The argument I just mentioned misses the point that children do not perform very well during winter months. The kids are tired, grouchy, and their walks to school are dangerous. Why is it acceptable for teachers to put their vacation desires over the safety of children?

Another argument that I’ve been confronted with is the “kids are too crazy during the summer” argument. This argument, like the previous, misses the point altogether. First off, we have never had school in the summers, so we don’t know how they’ll behave. Secondly, if kids are having a hard time staying seated during the summers, that tells me that their bodies want to move. Let’s get them moving in the schools and on the playground during the months the playground is safe and the weather is perfect for playing.

There might be a more nefarious reason for administration and government to keep us from shutting down in the winter. If the teachers are free for the winter, they would be free to interact all day with legislators about the plight of schools within Alaska. The teachers would have free time to battle out contract negotiations. I’m not certain, however, that people within government want teachers to have free-time during negotiations. All indications point to the contrary.

It is my opinion that the traditional school year does not work as intended. When children went to go work on the farm, the agricultural school year might have been a good idea. This is not the truth of the matter in today’s society, especially in Southeast Alaska. Maybe it’s time for Alaskan education to adapt to an ever-evolving society.

Finally, our governor has kindly requested that something be drastically changed within education. Maybe a new calendar will be drastic enough to melt our leader’s frozen heart when it comes to education.

• Berkey is a fifth-grade teacher at Mendenhall River Community School.

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