Mixed support for extended learning time

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented his executive state budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year, he promised positive changes for school districts, including full-day pre-kindergarten and extended learning time.

Although many of local school officials support the idea of increasing learning time, both for the youngest pupils and throughout each student’s school career, many remain uncertain how exactly these changes will be paid for.

Fonda-Fultonville Central School District Interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello said he absolutely supports the governor’s idea.

“Extended learning and early intervention is the way to go,” he said.

However, he said he believes the proposals could present a burden on local communities: “The devil is in the details,” he said.

“The problem, like everything else in today’s fiscal calamity, is who’s going to pay the bill?” Colucciello said. “The problem the local communities have throughout the state of New York is those things are mandated and good, but the state has not decided to pay for them. Education is supposed to be a 50-50 deal, but it has stopped doing that since the state has been lacking resources.”

The executive budget says it would provide $25 million to support a full-day pre-kindergarten program targeted toward needier students in poorer school districts through a competitive process.

And in order to provide increased learning opportunities for all students, $20 million would be prioritized to support high-quality extended school-day or extended school-year programs, with academically enriched programming.

Schools that apply and are selected to participate must agree to expand learning time by 25 percent, and the state would cover the full cost, according to the governor’s proposal.

Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Michael Vanyo and Board of Education President Peter Semione agreed that extending both the pre-kindergarten program and the total learning time during the school year are great idea with proven benefits, but they have concerns about what could happen down the line, if state funding dries up.

“I think [extended pre-K] would be a good idea because studies have shown that early intervention goes a long way as far as helping children mature into adults, and I think that would be helpful for students,” Semione said. “It really comes down to staffing and space we have available. The state will ultimately give you incentive money to start a program, but when that money runs out, it is left on the local taxpayers …”

Vanyo said full-day pre-K would be a great opportunity for the children in the district.

“The earlier we can get kids in school and supporting them, the best chance we have to improve our graduation rate, and we are supportive of that,” Vanyo said. “What I can’t support, though, is if there is not sustainable money for the program.”

He said if the district was going to put additional resources to double the size of the pre-K program – now the district only has a half-day program – then it would have to take the resources from another district program.

“If [the state] wants to give us money and say we will financially support this program and it will remain sustainable, then we will definitely look into that,” Vanyo said. “I don’t want to go to full-day pre-K next year and then find out the year after there isn’t any more money left for us to do it.”

Vanyo and Semione both said in theory extended learning time for all grade levels is a good idea because it constantly comes up that there aren’t enough hours or teaching minutes in the day to do everything that the district would like to accomplish, often putting additional pressure on the teaching staff and students.

However, Semione and Vanyo said reaching an agreement with the teachers’ unions could be difficult, though ultimately both parties have the students best interest at heart.

“If we are going to extend [teacher] work hours or their days, they aren’t going to do that without an adjustment to their contract,” Vanyo said. “We would still have to negotiate that.”

“We are both looking to improve opportunities for students, and I think there is always common ground; it is just reaching that common ground,” Semione said.

Broadalbin-Perth Central School District Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said he also supports full-day pre-K and extended learning time because research shows that putting more time and resources into educating children does pay off in graduation rates and achievement.

“I am absolutely in favor of it,” Tomlinson said. “However, until the governor and state start to fund full-day kindergarten, it doesn’t make sense to fund full-day pre-K. Many schools in New York state could possibly be considering reducing their kindergarten program from full-day to half-day because of budget cuts and lack of state aid.”

He said although he doesn’t see such cuts happening to B-P, it wouldn’t make sense to have students attend a full-day of pre-K for a year just to come back for a half-day of kindergarten.

“They are looking at extending the learning time by 25 percent,” Tomlinson said. “Depending on the district, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to extend my day 25 percent more. It means I have to make sure our students are learning 25 percent more than they would be.”

He said the district could use something like special assemblies or meetings to increase the students’ learning.

“The problem with [extended learning time] is there is not a teachers’ contract in New York state that will be able to afford that,” Tomlinson said. “We would have to renegotiate, and it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. [The governor] is saying he will fund it, but he doesn’t have nearly enough money to fund that. I am supportive of it but there is still a lot of information that needs to come out.”

All of the superintendents interviewed said it hasn’t been clarified whether the governor’s proposal calls for extended learning time in the form of longer school days or additional school days, but most believe that decision will ultimately be left to the districts.

“I think our kids could benefit from both of these programs but we are also trying to balance the financial side of it and we have to make sure when we add new programs we can sustain them, without taking away from another program,” Vanyo said.

The Gloversville Teachers Association, Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli and Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo did not respond to requests for comment on this stroy.

Levi Pascher can be reached at