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Don't take our sabbaticals away

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Dreams of kicking up her heels and casually breezing through a dusty shelf of unread novels enticed Carol Campbell to take a sabbatical.

After teaching kindergarten for 33 years, she felt she deserved - and needed - a year of rest and relaxation.

"A break seemed logical," says Mrs. Campbell, who teaches at Belle Chasse (La.) Primary School. "Teaching is an awesome task.... I needed to get away from work - to put my life and my job into perspective."

Most people think the summer is when teachers get their time off. But most states give teachers the right to have varying degrees of time off to use however they please. The intent is to help teachers recharge, advance their professional skills, or explore a new area.

This practice, however, has come under fire in recent years. Across the United States, a handful of public school systems - including Campbell's - are questioning the usefulness of rest and relaxation, or "R&R," sabbaticals.

"School systems are realizing that 'R&R' sabbaticals serve no useful function," says Mike Allen, a spokesman at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States that tracks high school trends.

Critics argue that "R&R" sabbaticals are an outdated remnant of mandated collective bargaining of the 1950s and '60s, and that they unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year. They also maintain that sabbaticals disrupt the educational system. The argument that teachers need a respite to travel or a break from the day-to-day intensity of their work is true of many occupations.

Nowhere is the debate on sabbaticals more heated than in Portland, Ore. School-board officers there are voting this month on whether to discontinue granting "R&R" sabbaticals.

"It's hard to get taxpayers to understand why we should pay teachers for a year or a half of a year off," says board member Joseph Tam. "And the benefits of sabbaticals - boosting workers' morale, increasing productivity, spurring creativity - are really impossible to measure. Who's to say they do any good?"


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