The Lackawanna City School District will likely give up a two-year, $1.1 million state grant after the Board of Education failed to come up with enough votes to extend the school day for middle school students.
Lackawanna was one of nine school districts across the state that won the grant to redesign the school day with the aim of boosting student achievement. The school district had planned to use the extra school time to offer afternoon programs for students that ranged from sports and leadership opportunities to tutoring for struggling students.
But concerns over the need to change the school schedule six weeks before classes begin and a requirement that all middle school students stay later divided the Board of Education.
The board last week failed to garner the four votes needed to extend the middle school day to 4:25 p.m. Without the expanded school day, Superintendent Anne Spadone said, the district will have to notify the state it will not qualify for the grant.
“I don’t think it was really fair for the state to put this kind of program in front of us only six weeks before the school year started,” said board President Len Kowalski, who was one of two board members to vote against the proposal to extend the school day.
When the school district applied for the grant, Board of Education members were on board with the idea to expand classroom learning time, Spadone said. But they also expected to learn whether the district had won the grant by January – giving the school six months to prepare parents and students for the change.
Instead, the district was notified in late June that it had qualified for annual funding of $542,370 for the 2014-15 and 2015-2016 school years to implement the expanded school day.
“If this was back in January, you could have formed committees and had parent information nights and tried to have that time period where you had buy-in from the public,” Kowalski said.
Lackawanna is one of four districts in the state that may give up the grant if the state doesn’t provide them more time to plan for expanding their school schedules. Spadone has asked the state for an extension but had not yet heard Friday whether that would be possible.
Asked whether the state Department of Education would give the school more time, department spokesman Jonathan Burman responded, “Final decisions about program implementation are currently under review.”
Kowalski said some board members also had concerns about the length of the school day that was proposed, as well as the cost of the program if the grant funding was not extended after the initial two years.
Spadone said the district had planned to add two afternoon sessions that would offer a variety of student programs, including bringing in a private tutoring service for students who needed academic intervention and homework help. In addition, the district planned to offer character education, sports and other activities such as a students newspaper or technology wars.
“It’s a blow, I think, for the kids in the district,” Spadone said. “It would have made us more competitive with the charter schools.”
The Lackawanna School District has had to scale back middle school programs, including cancelling modified sports and providing only a limited number of clubs, in recent years to balance its budget.
“If they’re not willing to make the change in the day, we have no choice but to let the state know that we will not be taking the grant money,” Spadone said.
The board’s 3-2 vote failed to get approval from a majority of the seven-member board. David Joyce, Mark Kowalski and Anthony Catuzza voted for the school-day extension. Len Kowalski and Jennifer Grzybowski voted against it. Nicholas Sobaszek abstained from the vote, and Robert Sireika was absent.
Len Kowalski said School Board members were pleased that Spadone has pursued grants, despite the decision not to move forward with the extended day.
“Her going after these grants has provided some good funding to the district,” Kowalski said. “In this case, I think it was some bad timing from the state and not giving us enough time to get buy-in from the parents.”