AUBURN – All of Auburn’s controversial half-day Wednesdays – the practice disliked by many parents but loved by teachers – are staying.

The Auburn School Committee voted 4-3 against a task force’s recommendation to reduce the number of early-release Wednesdays by six.

Two committee members, Ray Berube and Lane Feldman, voted against the recommendation because they wanted more half-day Wednesdays gone. Two members, Thomas Kendall and Susan Gaylord, voted against because they wanted no early-release Wednesdays eliminated.

David Das, Tara Paradie and Bonnie Hayes voted for the recommendation, while Ross Leavitt abstained from voting.

Without a majority supporting the recommended reduction, the half-days stay.

For years Auburn K-6 schools have dismissed students at 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays so teachers can plan lessons and meet with teachers and parents to improve teaching.

The attempt to get rid of the policy was brought up by Feldman, who in August said he’s opposed to it and had received complaints from parents. At one meeting three parents said they’re opposed to releasing students early on Wednesday, complaining it’s hard on working parents, no other school system has a weekly half-days, and students are missing too much class time. While many parents grumbled privately about the practice, only a handful publicly opposed it.

Educators defended the practice, saying it’s allowed Auburn teachers to gain valuable development and help plan individualized lessons for students. A task force was appointed to study the policy. The task force surveyed parents, students and teachers, finding a majority of students, teachers and students wanted the practice to stay. However the favorable percentages differed widely in teachers and parents: 92 percent of teachers favored it compared to 54 percent of parents. The task force recommended six early-release Wednesdays be eliminated.

Feldman asked the committee Wednesday to consider 18 Wednesdays a year be half-days, the remaining 18 full days. Splitting it down the middle would be a better compromise, he said.

Now there are 26 half-day Wednesdays and 10 full days. During weeks where there’s a holiday early-release Wednesdays are postponed.

Students are losing too much class time, Feldman said. On Wednesdays his own child “asks me why he has to bother to go to school. He says, ‘It’s a half day. We don’t do much.'”

Kendall said he favors the existing policy and didn’t want to see any early-release Wednesdays eliminated. “I would support no change,” Kendall said, adding the half-days gives teachers time to plan.

When her children were young, Hayes said she disliked the practice, but added it did give them time to take music and skiing lessons. “I see the importance, however it’s time missed out of school.” She said she could live with the task force recommendation.

Berube, who is a city councilor and the mayor’s representative on the school board, said recent test scores show that Auburn schools “are not better than the state average. That doesn’t speak too well for early release.”

In other business, the committee voted to approve the sale of property at 154 and 180 Mt. Auburn Ave. to Auburn Mall owner George Schott for $900,000. The School Department now leases space to a day care and holds a special education program in that space. As planned the special education program could move to the old Webster School next year, business manager Jude Cyr said.

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