Some schools switching to four-day week to save money

Friday, November 7, 2003

DIXON, Ky. -- Webster County High senior Zach Cato spends his Mondays mowing lawns and watching football game films. He is not cutting class -- he is taking advantage of his school district's move to a four-day week.

"The only ones who are complaining are the ones who don't want to be here at all," the 17-year-old Cato says.

By using the shortened schedule, the district of 1,900 students in this western Kentucky farming and coal mining region hopes to save about 2 percent of its annual spending -- or $200,000 -- on bus service, substitute teachers and utilities. It is the first district in Kentucky to go to four days.

Growing trend

Mostly rural school systems in at least 10 other states have made the switch to save money: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to a 2002 survey by the National School Boards Association.

"It's the easiest way to cut to get a quick result fast, to get more money," said Linda Embrey, a spokeswoman for the association.

The verdict is still out on whether students perform as well, and whether schools save enough money to justify the switch. But Webster County assistant superintendent Rachel Yarbrough said it appears to be a success here so far in its first year.

Students are encouraged to make dentist's and doctor's appointments on their Mondays off, so that they miss fewer classes. Another benefit to having no school on Monday is that teachers have more time for planning and faculty meetings, said Webster County High principal Carolyn Sholar.

'Not as burned out'

And the students "really feel like they're not as burned out," Sholar said.

To meet state guidelines, the school day was extended by 30 minutes. In addition, schools will be in session on Mondays in eight weeks of the year -- the last four weeks of each semester -- to help student prepare for Kentucky's end-of-the-year assessment exams.

Tabitha Daniel, an education professor at Western Kentucky University, said many parents might not be able to afford additional child care if their children are off on Mondays. She questioned whether the money saved is worth the additional stress to families.

Around the country, school systems are being squeezed simultaneously by budget cuts and by more stringent federal education standards.

"Right now, you can't afford to do anything that will slow the progress of student achievement, but you also can't operate at a deficit or print your own money," said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.

The Webster school system decided to change its schedule rather than cut extracurricular activities.

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