Schools out early

Q: Dear Ace, I heard somewhere that the average Albemarle County school day is 20 minutes shorter than the most other schools in the state. That adds up over time to a crime! Can we really spare those precious minutes?—Charlie Frown

A: Well, dear Charlie, do not believe everything you hear. Ace, for one, has heard through the grapevine that Tom Cruise is really an alien, but that doesn’t mean that Ace expects him to sprout green, bug-eyed spawn. O.K., bad analogy (bad joke!), but what you’ve heard is only partially true—“faction,” as Ace likes to call it—so don’t get those feathers too ruffled yet, dear one. Just take a deep breath and listen up.

 According to Diantha McKeel, chairman of the Albemarle County School Board, all county schooldays meet statewide guidelines. However, Virginia’s guidelines are more like guide “areas,” so that schooldays at Albemarle’s 13 elementary schools are, in fact, 15-20 minutes shorter than the statewide average. This is due to that age-old excuse: “budgetary constraints” that have spread county school buses so thin that bus schedules must be staggered in order to accommodate all those elementary, middle and high school students clamoring to get home in time for that SpoolgePants FatBob show. Or whatever it’s called.

 Crunch out the numbers and 20 minutes less per day in school means approximately an hour and a half less per week devoted to learning the ABCs, and an hour and a half more devoted to Playstation 2. Expand the math to the time frame of a year and that means that early dismissal adds up to approximately 60 hours, or 10 full days less per Albemarle County pupil.

 “It’s one of the shortest elementary school days in the state, as far as we know,” says McKeel, adding that to the extent of her knowledge, the County has been short-shafting their Albemarle countlets since fish grew legs and starting scratching out the alphabet in the sand.

 But with the annual budget debates coming up in January and February, McKeel suspects that the school days are at long last going to get longer. A couple of years ago, the Albemarle County schools started a conversational Spanish program in a couple its elementary schools to great success and parental approval. Currently, seven of the 13 elementary schools have such programs and the hope is to expand it to all county elementary schools starting in September 2005, which, McKeel says, would be “a direct impetus to lengthen the school day.”

 But it all depends on the buses. The County is hoping to budget an extra $100,000-$250,000 into their upcoming budget so they can buy extra buses to take the cabritos to their casas a little later than usual.

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