Schools consider four-day weeks

The LA Times ran a story on school districts trimming the traditional school week to four days to save money:

A four-day week has long been confined to a few small rural districts looking to save on fuel costs. Indeed, many of the districts thinking of shaving a day off their weekly calendar have small enrollments — such as the 940-student district in Bisbee, Ariz.

But some districts contemplating the move serve suburban or urban areas. The idea is being floated in South Florida’s Broward County, the nation’s fifth-largest school system.

“When everything’s lean and states have no money and are cutting budgets to schools, it’s an easy way to save money without cutting staff,” said Gary Spiker, superintendent of the tiny Ash Fork School District in northern Arizona, which has had a four-day week since the 1980s.

Analysts say only about 100 of the nation’s 15,000 districts operate on a four-day schedule. Eighteen states, including California, allow districts to choose a four-day week, and bills have been introduced in six states this year to permit it.

Typically, districts that hold classes four days a week extend school hours 60 to 90 minutes per day. Education experts say there are no definitive data showing whether a four-day week benefits or harms students.

Some educators worry that young children will lose focus with a school day that can run from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. But the most common concern is voiced by parents who may have to scramble for an extra full day of child care.

“For parents, the issue is if Johnny’s not in school on Monday or Friday, where is he going to be?” said Marc Egan of the National School Boards Assn.

Accordingly, large school districts approach the issue cautiously. In Douglas County, home to a ring of affluent suburbs southwest of Denver and Colorado’s third-largest district, officials raised the idea of a four-day week during the district’s budget process in January. The district was soon swamped with calls from angry and concerned parents.

The district can’t rule out the concept because it has already had to cut 10% of its budget after local bond issues failed to pass in November. Meanwhile, it is bracing for a large funding cut from the state, which is wrestling with a $600-million deficit.

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