Cash-Strapped Schools Consider Four-Day Weeks

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Due to a projected budget shortage, a Phoenix school district is one of the first districts to switch to a four-day school week for the upcoming school year.

The Apache Junction Unified School District’s board voted 4 to 1 to close its schools on Fridays while adding time to the Monday through Thursday schedule, a plan that has already been adopted by another strapped  district, Coolidge Unified.  The Associated Press reports that yet another district, Peoria Unified, is taking this choice into consideration to save money.

The decision was not an easy one for the Apache Junction board with board members admitting it had caused them to lose sleep. The district is not only elongating the school day, but also plans to increase class sizes and close one of its elementary schools. The budget shortfall is projected to be $2.7 million. Phoenix-area voters have rejected proposed budget overrides.

Two southwest Missouri school districts have also decided to go with four-day school weeks for the next school year. Students at Miller and Pierce City schools will have classes Tuesday through Friday, and another school district is considering the shortened schedule as well.  The purpose, according to the Springfield News-Leader, is to save money, better engage students, and help retain quality educators.

Longer school days will be necessary so that students will receive the same number of instructional hours. According to KOLR-TV, the Miller district plans to experiment with the new scheduling for two years, at least. The school days will likely run from 8:00 a.m. to 3:45 or 3:55 p.m.

Parents were told that students will be receiving the same number of educational hours because the time spent moving from class to class will be shortened. The reasons the plan will allow the district to save money, says Superintendent Dr. Tracey Hankins,  are that fuel costs will be lowered because buses will not be used on Mondays, and some staff members will have rearranged hours. This move alone, according to Hankins, could save the district $100,000 in salaries and benefits.

Is the four-day week a viable option for school districts? According to a national study, the benefits of such a change can include positive effects from improved absentee rates to saving money on substitute teacher fees. Even so, the financial savings are small compared to a school districts’ complete budget. The Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine released a study in 2009 from data gathered in 17 states in which some of the states’ districts were operating on a four-day schedule. The research showed that although this concept has been tried for over 35 years, there is little documentation to show any measurable impact of a four-day school week.

The report found that although there were districts that saw a 20% savings in areas like utilities and transportation, the savings was not what was originally anticipated. The bulk of a school’s budget is the salaries paid, so a 20% reduction in spending on services is simply a drop in the bucket.

Some districts reported a small improvement in student achievement, but overall the improvement was minimal. Teachers and students improved attendance rates, and rural districts saw more benefits from the four-day school week than urban and suburban districts. The report concludes that:

“…savings must be weighed against an increased length of the school day, childcare needs of the off day, and professional development needs to help teachers adapt to an alternative schedule.”