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Statement: “My opponent has voted to cut the school year to the shortest school year in the world,” said Mark Powell, a candidate for the San Diego Unified School District board’s Sub-District-A during a debate held at Politifest last weekend.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Last week, school board candidate Mark Powell was one of three board hopefuls to participate in the Politifest debate.

He ended his two-minute introduction with a bold statement: that the majority of the district board, including Powell’s opponent, sitting School Board President John Lee Evans, OK’d an agreement with the teachers union to cut the school year to “the shortest school year in the world.”

“Currently, China has a 200-day school year. Germany has a 240-day school year. Japan had 243,” Powell said, showing off a chart. “Through their negotiations, they cut the school year to 175. We’re already low at 180.”

Powell’s campaign later drove the point home in a post on San Diego Rostra, a right-leaning blog.

We decided to check the facts. Will San Diego students really go to school fewer days this year than their counterparts in the rest of the developed world?

Powell’s claim isn’t completely unfounded but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Over the summer, California Watch put together an interactive chart featuring the standard number of instructional days at schools in developed countries around the world.

The chart, which cited data from the National Center for Education Statistics, showed California’s required minimum school year of 175 days falls below the 180 for students in France and 228 in Switzerland. California’s mandated 175-day school year matched the number of school days in Spain, one of the lowest on the list of 16 countries.

San Diego Unified students will see an even sharper drop this year if Californians fail to approve Propositions 30 and 38, two state ballot measures crucial to state education funding.

In July, the district and the teachers union reached a deal to reduce the number of instructional days to as low as 161, down from the current 175, should automatic cuts be necessary due to a massive drop in state assistance. VOSD’s Will Carless detailed the decision back in July.

The agreement includes several projections for the number of days that may be cut based on the revenue the district receives from the state.

But the decrease doesn’t go into effect unless voters deny the two ballot measures.

Evans also defended the school-year shortening agreement, saying it was the best way for the district to cope with potential cuts without laying off teachers in the middle of the school year and creating instability in San Diego schools.

The bottom line: Powell was correct that San Diego students have a school year that’s among the shortest in the developed world but he didn’t include the necessary context — that the change isn’t a sure thing and it could actually be more drastic than he described.

Here’s the portion of the debate we cited in this Fact Check, which begins at about the 10:20 mark.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org. What claim should we explore next?

Lisa Halverstadt is the newest reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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