District given time to comply with new law
Rio Rancho parents will have to wait another year before seeing the end of early dismissal on Wednesdays.
A new law requires kindergarten- through sixth-grade students to spend at least 5½ hours in class a day, while the older students must be there six hours. Before the change, the state required a certain amount of hours of instructional time per school year but left it up to each district on how they would accomplish that.
Rio Rancho Public Schools meets the requirement on every day but Wednesday, when school is dismissed early to allow teachers time for planning and collaboration.
However, the state is allowing districts to delay compliance with the new law for a year. The Rio Rancho Public Schools board on Monday accepted a recommendation from the RRPS scheduling committee that the district take advantage of the extra year. Committee chair Cathy Ferris, who is also RRPS’ executive director of elementary curriculum and instruction, told the board that after exploring scheduling options, nothing was financially feasible now.
Only elementary children were dismissed early until a few years ago, when the district adjusted its schedule so that students in all grade levels went home early on Wednesdays. The early end to the school day offers the middle and high school teachers time for collaboration and the elementary teachers time for planning.
Middle and high school teachers have planning built into their day, but Ferris said eliminating the early dismissal on Wednesday leaves elementary teachers without planning time. Superintendent Sue Cleveland told the board that wasn’t fair to elementary teachers.
“I can tell you that without that planning time, our schools will not be as successful as they have been,” she said. “They need that planning time.”
The committee, Ferris said, explored several options, including adding more elementary art, music and P.E. teachers. She said doing that would give elementary teachers time during their day while their students were attending those special classes. But, she said, the district cannot afford more teachers.
“With the fine arts grant we get, we can usually afford about three of those teachers per school,” she said. “We would need about six or seven for an entire grade level to be out of the classroom at a time.”
The district also looked into changing the start times at schools. The district currently uses three different start and end times. With a few exceptions, all the high school students start their day about 7:20 a.m., followed by the middle school students at 8:10 a.m. and elementary students 9 a.m.
Ferris said the committee discussed changing to two start times instead, possibly grouping elementary students with middle school so that the instruction day could be extended. That option also was too expensive.
“That would be very costly,” she said. “We figured we would need about 30 more school buses, space to park them, more mechanics, more fuel and more drivers. That’s easily a couple of million dollars.”
The district is hoping the extra year will give them more to time to explore options and possibly a better financial climate.
County Commissioner Glenn Walters was also on the committee. He appeared before the board Wednesday alongside Ferris and recommended that the district hold public forums, even though they are holding off on any changes.
“I believe there is already awareness of this issue in the community,” he said. “We need to let the public know that the bell schedule will not be changing next year.”
Walters said it would also give the district an opportunity to find out what type of schedule parents would like to have and to get suggestions from the public.
The forums will be held next week.