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The Times Orange County Poll : Majority Favors Year-Round Schools

August 21, 1989|MARIA NEWMAN | Times Staff Writer

A majority of Orange County residents favors year-round schools, at a time when national polls indicate that most Americans are evenly divided on their preference for the traditional school calendar, a Times Orange County poll shows.

In a poll of 600 Orange County adults, 58% indicated that they favor schools being open year-round. The approval rate was even higher--at 61%--among parents with school-age children.

Of the 484 public schools in the county, 23 elementary and middle schools in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Irvine, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano are on year-round schedules. Other school districts are considering making the switch.

"Parents and students are excited about it," said Richard Sifuentes, co-president of the Parent-Teacher Assn. at Las Palmas Elementary School in San Clemente, where a year-round program is in its second year. "Now they are so excited that more parents want to enroll their kids."

In a year-round schedule, students' vacations are shorter and they are staggered throughout the year instead of being concentrated into three consecutive months during the summer.

The number of schools switching to year-round is growing not only here but also nationwide, according to Charles Ballinger, executive secretary of the National Assn. of Year Round Education, which is based in San Diego.

"That's what I would say is very good news," Ballinger said of poll findings. "Without question the trend is to go to year-round. The increased growth in California (enrollment) is putting tremendous pressure on school districts to use their facilities in better ways."

Approval Widespread

The findings are part of the Times Orange County Poll conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates of Irvine for the Times Orange County Edition. The telephone survey on the issue was conducted Aug. 6 through 8 using a random sample of listed and unlisted telephone numbers. The margin of error is plus or minus 4% overall; it is greater for subgroups.

The poll found that a majority in all geographic areas support year-round schooling but that the highest rates of approval--67%--were from central Orange County. That region includes the Santa Ana Unified School District, where 14 of 25 elementary schools are on year-round schedules, some having been so for more than a decade.

Support for the idea was seen in all age groups, although the highest percentage--44%--to express disapproval for it came from the 18-to-34 age group.

Debbie Sargent of Yorba Linda, who has a son about to enter first grade, is among the 37% of all respondents who expressed opposition to year-round schools.

"I think it breaks up the family," she said. If the traditional summer vacation is eliminated, she said, "it doesn't allow the child to be a child.

"Lots of parents have real conflicts when one child is on year-round and the other isn't," she said. "I know I wouldn't favor it."

National Surveys

National polls, in fact, show that year-round school schedules still are not favored by a majority, although Ballinger maintains that the number of people opposed to the idea has been declining steadily.

In a June Media General-Associated Press poll, 49% of 1,084 adults surveyed said they oppose year-round schools; 44% said they favored them. Because of the poll's 3-point margin of error, the findings are considered a split decision.

Ballinger, however, said: "We thought that to be very positive because over half of the states don't have year-round classes yet, and so many people are not familiar with the concept."

Many school districts, particularly those facing overcrowding, have switched to year-round schedules to maximize the campuses' capacity. Santa Ana Unified, for example, is growing by about 1,000 students per year.

New projections released by the state Department of Finance last Friday indicate that Orange County's school population will increase by 27% over the next decade, a much higher rate than previous projections estimated.

Variety of Plans

Year-round schedules can take several forms. Santa Ana Unified uses what are called "multitrack" schedules. In these, campuses are actually open all year, but at any given time, 75% of the pupils will be attending classes and the rest will be on vacation.

Santa Ana Unified is the only district in the county to use a multitrack system. The other three in the county with year-round schedules--Capistrano Unified (two elementary schools), Irvine Unified (two elementary schools) and Orange Unified (four elementary schools)--use "single-track" programs. In these, although the traditional September-to-May schedule is not followed, all students will be on vacation at the same time. The terms may be divided up in a calendar that has, say, 45 days of classes alternating with 15 days of vacation; in addition, there would be several weeks off around Christmas.

Some administrators are looking at year-round scheduling simply because they believe it has educational advantages.

'Great Idea'

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