More Districts Considering 4-Day Weeks, Fewer School Days to Cut Costs

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Many school districts are already exploring calendar options for the next school year in the wake of midyear budget cuts and a slower than expected economic recovery nationwide.

In Louisiana, the St. Landry United Coalition of Educators has proposed that the school board consider changing to a four-day school week. The coalition, which consists of five public school employee organizations, is pushing this option, according to a local news report, because members want to avoid losing student programs such as summer school for underperforming students and vocational courses.

The Perham-Dent School District in Minnesota is currently weighing a four-day school week to cut costs. Board chairman Cyndy Huber said no decision has yet been made, but a shorter week offers benefits like utility cost savings, though it could be a challenge for families who need to find day care, reports KSAX-TV News.

But, Dan Kurowski, superintendent for Oakridge (Ore.) School District #76, cautioned that day care fears should not stall talks about this viable and, he claims, beneficial option.

“In Oakridge, the move to the four-day school week was done to improve education, not save money,” said Kurowski, who supported the change two years ago and has since authored the book “The Four-Day School Week: Less Is More!”

“Our test scores skyrocketed at Oakridge High School, our students are in school for more hours (per day) at a higher engagement level and our teachers are happier and better prepared,” he continued.

Kurowski told School Transportation News that he felt the Aug. 31 NBC Nightly News segment on this issue overemphasized working parents’ concerns about child care, when school districts like Coos Bay currently offer Friday programs for families who cannot afford to pay for extra care.

Coos Bay (Ore.) School District Superintendent Dawn Granger told NBC that economics was not behind the change in her district either. “This had to be motivated by a deep concern for student learning,” said Granger. “The number of hours in class won’t change, because of longer days. And teachers can use Fridays for planning.”

Meanwhile, school district officials in Minnesota and Colorado are considering the four-day school week to cut costs after failed referenda that would have boosted their budget coffers. Some 292 districts have a four-day week, according to statistics compiled by The Washington Post, up from 120 just two years ago.

But not everyone is convinced this is a positive change for the children. The Post reported that other districts that “experimented with four days didn’t like it and went back to five. Some teachers worry that three-day weekends can make it harder for kids to retain what they learned at school, and others say that teaching and learning inevitably suffer.” Then there is the argument that younger students typically have trouble sitting in longer classes and staying focused.

The article also states that there is no conclusive evidence on exactly how much time all kids need to spend in class to be successful.

This could be good news for school districts in Washington State, California and Virginia that might shorten their school year, or have already done so, to save money. While Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire initially resisted the proposal to cut seven school days, she is now considering it for next year’s budget. The governor estimates that trimming the school year could save the state $99 million by reducing school districts’ utilities, maintenance and transportation costs.

Thirteen of California’s 30 largest school districts have already reduced the school year below 180 days, the previous state minimum before lawmakers changed it to 175 days, The Associated Press reported.

Most recently, the Appomattox County (Va.) School Board considered implementing a longer school day for 2012-2013 to save on fuel and transportation costs but has since agreed to consider eliminating one day from their school year instead.