Gov. Andrew Cuomo admittedly set forth an ambitious agenda in his State of the State address Wednesday, but the proposal most likely to affect the Orthodox community was one of his boldest.
Cuomo announced in his annual address that he wants to increase “learning time” in schools by at least 25 percent, either by extending the six-hour school day or by eliminating some of the more than 180 days currently given off for vacation.
The plan, which would mean higher pay for teachers, is bitterly opposed by the teachers’ union. But, if implemented, it has its pros and cons for yeshivah parents.
While the idea would make it easier for the transportation union to agree to drive home yeshivah students beyond the current 4:30 deadline they allow, it would prevent a significant number of teachers from reaching their jobs on time.
“It is a very critical issue,” agreed Leon Goldenberg, an activist on Agudath Israel’s board of trustees. “If they extend the day, some of the schools will have a problem getting qualified teachers for a few of the subjects.”
Many yeshivos use public school teachers for their secular studies program. The teachers supplement their income by working in yeshivos after hours. They get out of work at 3:00 p.m., which allows them to be at their yeshivah job by 3:30, the usual start of secular studies.
However, if the public school day ends at 4:00, or even at 3:30, that would wreak havoc with yeshivos, particularly from outside Brooklyn, who rely more on public school teachers.
Additionally, with the increase in pay that comes with the longer school day, teachers may not need the money as much.
But on the plus side, the extended day will keep school bus drivers on the road longer, allowing them to ferry yeshivah students home even if they get out at 5:00 or later. That would probably have more of an impact on girls’ schools, which typically are let out at 4:30.
New York’s City’s Office of Pupil Transportation does not currently provide yellow bus service for schools with dismissals past 4:30, since union rules do not allow their drivers to work after that time.
While a deal was reached for the 2013 school year for busing for late-homecoming yeshivah students, it was a one-time deal. The governor’s proposal would make that permanent.
Cuomo said that the current 9-3 school day was instituted when the United States was a mostly rural country, to allow for students to help in the fields after school.
“We cannot continue to run our schools under agrarian and factory traditions,” Cuomo declared.