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Committee says ‘no’ to four-day school week

With Archuleta School District 50 Joint facing a budget shortfall that could surpass $1 million in the next year, one idea that has been floated to save money includes going to a four-day school week.

Presenting before the school board at Tuesday’s meeting, District Accountability and Accreditation Committee (DAAC) representatives recommended the district not go the four-day school week.

DAAC is composed of parent SAAC (School Accountability and Accreditation Committee) representatives from each of the district’s four schools, community members with no children in the district, teachers, students and district administrators.

Citing the fact that evidence that supported a four-day school was largely anecdotal, along with a dearth of peer-reviewed data supporting academic achievement in districts (and schools) that had elected to go with a shortened week, DAAC chairperson Robin Ball concluded her introduction to the committee’s report by saying, “A four-day school week cannot be recommended for this district.”

Yet, despite DAAC findings that student achievement scores could not be empirically verified for districts using a four-day school week, not to mention that potential cost savings to the district were equivocal (estimate between 2 and 9 percent), the issue of a four-day school week will most likely be revived in the near future.

Adopted by some New Mexico districts during the 1970s’ oil crisis, the idea of the abbreviated school week quickly took hold in school districts — mostly poor and rural — hampered by diminishing budgets and decreasing enrollments.

In 1980, the state of Colorado passed a law allowing a four-day school week, provided districts and schools met instruction requirements of 1,080 hours of instruction each year for high school students, about six hours a day — 990 instructional hours, or 5.5 hours a day, for elementary schools.

Currently, 63 of the 147 school districts in the state are wholly or partially on a four-day school week.

Going to a four-day school week would mean that Archuleta County students would be in school an additional 1.5 hours per day. Expressing DAAC concerns, parent representative Lisa Scott pointed out the extended school day could be a problem for primary school students. More than that, “There are child safety concerns, with children having to walk home after school in the dark,” she said, “as well as an added burden to working parents,” adding that problems with providing additional child care, “ ... shifts the burden of district savings to other social service agencies.”

While some reports advocating a four-day school week indicate that districts with a shortened school week experience fewer disciplinary problems and decreased absenteeism (among staff and students), Scott reiterated that those reports were merely anecdotal and not the result of hard scientific data.

And while reasons for going to a four-day week have been primarily financial, just how much savings the district would realize is far from clear. While transportation and food costs would certainly be cut with one less day a week required for those services, facilities would still use utilities (for school and community functions) and realize, at best, negligible savings. Furthermore, savings at the district would come at the expense of workers who could least afford the pay cut: transportation, food-service and janitorial staff.

However, what is known is that students, parents and teachers surveyed in districts that have been with a four-day school week for several years report anywhere between 80- to 90-percent of community members favor continuing the schedule.

While DAAC representatives acknowledged the numerous advantages of a four-day school week, it was the lack of hard empirical data indicating the effect of that schedule on student achievement scores that appeared to sway the committee’s decision against recommending a four-day school week.

Along with other potential social stressors, Ball summed up DAAC’s findings, saying, “I don’t think it’s a right thing for our district.”

However, with the district looking at cost saving measures such as eliminating the intermediate school (moving sixth-graders to junior high and fifth-graders to the elementary school), staff furlough days, changing the high school four-period block schedule to five-periods, and overriding the mill levy — among other things — the district has not entirely ruled out the plausibility of a four-day school week, despite DAAC’s report on Tuesday. And with a potential budget shortfall that could amount to as much as $1 million facing the district, a four-day school week could be an option the district revisits in the near future.