Growing Number of School Districts Weigh a 4-Day Week to Cut Costs

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School districts in Florida and Ohio are considering moving to a four-day school week after several in Oregon and other states switched last year to trim costs in transportation, staffing and other areas.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states currently have districts with public schools offering four-day school weeks.

Students in Marion County, Fla., will have a shortened school week starting in fall 2012. CNN reported that the June school board vote occurred after a $24 million cut to next year’s operating budget. According to School Superintendent Jim Yancey, making the switch will save the district about $4.5 million. Students will attend school either Monday through Thursday or Tuesday through Friday, with another 75 minutes added to each day in the 2012–2013 school year.

“One day less a week will save on water and energy, along with transportation costs,” said the school district’s spokesperson.

Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District is weighing the four-day school week amid a $50-million budget shortfall. Putting all grade levels on a Monday-through-Thursday schedule would save about $6.8 million in expenses for bus driver and aide salaries, diesel fuel and electricity, the district’s latest review found. But, adoption may be blocked because of the limited financial benefit and concerns cited by educators, such as inconveniencing parents and potentially hurting academics and athletic programs.

There is a state bill now pending in the Ohio House that would change required school calendars from days to hours, giving districts more flexibility in scheduling. Yet State Sen. Chris Widener, whose district includes London, has seen similar legislation come and go many times.

Four-day weeks have been in place for decades in states such as New Mexico, Idaho and Wyoming — initially to combat growing energy costs rather than shrinking education budgets. In the past, it was typically the needy, more rural districts that made the switch, but today this schedule is widely employed in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

Many school districts have been forced to adopt the four-day school week. Schools in Coos Bay and other cash-strapped Oregon communities that switched to the four-day schedule made headlines August 31 when NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported on this particular consequence of the recession. Many residents of Coos Bay, Oakridge and other sizeable cities in Oregon found the news about shaving off one school day “devastating,” in the words of one parent.

Still, the shortened school week seen in Oregon is predicted to spread to other school systems nationwide dealing with drastic budget cuts.

A Los Angeles Times editorial recently reported that L.A. Unified is eyeing this “money-saving tactic” after several states, including Montana, Georgia, Missouri and Washington, passed legislation allowing school districts to make the switch as long as they lengthened each school day to maintain the required number of instructional hours annually.

“Utility and transportation costs are lower; there’s no need to serve a fifth lunch each week; even the reduced wear and tear on buildings has helped [districts],” the editorial stated.

Because of its recent budget crisis, California has allowed districts to shorten their calendar by up to five days, from 180 down to 175. So districts from Torrance to San Mateo have negotiated with employee unions to institute furloughs, which means fewer instructional days.

 

But, a new report has found that shortened school calendars is hindering the progress of students, particularly those who are from low-income families or learning English as a second language.