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Education

Utica City School District rejects state funding for extra classroom time

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The Utica City School District's Board of Education unanimously rejected $4.1 million in state funding to extend the school day in five city schools.

The grant would have allowed the the school district to increase classroom time by 25 percent. An additional hour and a half would have been tacked onto the end of the school day from Monday through Thursday, and summer classes would have been added. District officials hoped extra learning time would raise Common Core test scores.

Carla Percia, director of grants and compliance for the district, says the program would have started next fall but ran into several roadblocks.

"Parents were very concerned about the late hour and the extended time for little ones, especially in lower grades," Percia said. "Also about the fact that if their child was not bussed originally, they would not be bussed through this. And with daylight savings time, they were concerned, especially in the elementary, about their children having to walk home in the dark."

Percia says the most prevalent problem parents expressed was the requirement for the schools to maintain 90 percent student attendance in order to receive the funding.

"I think the biggest concern, though, was the mandatory attendance," Percia said. "Parents felt strongly about that, especially parents of younger children, too."

They were also worried with how the district was going to pay to continue the program once state funding ran out. The Utica City School District is one of the poorer districts in the state.

"Perhaps if it was a different time and we had more time to work with parents and talk about it, it might have been a different story," Percia explained. "But I also think the fact that when you're not offering it to everyone, that's a concern too."

The Utica Teachers Association polled its members and found the plan did not have much support, even with the benefit of additional pay. Percia says the fact the district had to turn down this grant won't stop it from trying to find other ways to improve state test scores.

"We try to make things happen because we want to give our students the very best," Percia said. "They deserve that, and I think that is the attitude of the entire professional staff here."