Times change, but the allure of half-day Wednesdays for Auburn teachers and students never does. And neither, it seems, does the persistent heartburn this peculiar institution causes some parents.

Auburn’s school committee is again revisiting early release, a program started in 1971 to give teachers additional preparation time. Since then, the issue has flared up from time to time, for the same basic reasons.

Such as 1995, when the school committee mulled a special subcommittee to study early-release. At that time, Chairman David Griswold said all stakeholders should have a voice in discussions, while parents, such as Pat Luke, said the policy leaves parents in a “lurch” to find day care.

Fast forward to earlier this month, when chairman David Das promised to balance the panel with early-release supporters or detractors, and parents, such as Amy Flowers, said the policy makes her family “scramble” for child care.

Deja vu, all over again.

Given that complaints and praise about early-release have stayed steady, Auburn’s new subcommittee should study what has changed: namely the demographics of the city, its students, and most importantly, its parents.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, 73 percent of Auburn families with children ages 6-17 had both parents in the work force. This figure increased to 80 percent by 2000. For dual-income families with children under 6, the change was more drastic: from 63 percent in 1990, to 78 percent in 2000.

The number of these dual-income families has also been constant.

In 1990, there were 2,844 dual-income families in Auburn with children ages 6-17. In 2000, there were 2,856. In 1990, there were 1,297 dual-income families with children younger than 6. By 2000, this number was 1,207.

But, while the number of working families in Auburn has been consistent, census data shows the overall number of Auburn families with children has declined.

There were 3,919 families with children ages 6-17 in Auburn in 1999; 3,540 in 2000. With children under 6, there were 2,077 dual-income Auburn families in 1990, and only 1,539 in 2000, a decline of more than 25 percent.

What do these numbers mean? If a greater proportion of Auburn families are dual-income, this could mean more parents of Auburn students are being inconvenienced by early-release. And the rising number of dual-income families with young children in 2000 are likely the middle-schoolers of today.

A majority of Auburn parents struggling to balance workplace demands with early-release lends credence to abandoning or amending the 35-year-old policy.

It’s a point the subcomittee should explore.

Yet the rationale for early-release remains strong: that teaching is complicated, especially in this standardized No Child Left Behind world.

These arguments have framed debate over early-release for years. This hasn’t changed in Auburn.

In this new review, then, the focus should be on what has.

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