Four-day school weeks could slowly become the norm, not the exception in Colorado. Tuesday night, the Pueblo County School District 70 Board voted unanimously to switch from the traditional 5-day week to the 4-day schedule. They join around 70 other school districts, out of the 178 total in the state, that are operating on 4-day weeks. Colorado has the most 4-day week school districts in the country.
District Superintendent Dan Lere says, it's not something they wanted to do, rather it was something they had to do. "We're not 100 percent sure this is the best thing to do. In fact, if it hadn't been for the budget cuts we probably wouldn't do this," explains Lere.
Despite their uncertainty, Lere says the School Board studied the issue greatly and through their research, found no glaring negative impacts on children. However they do have some concerns and Lere says, they will be watching the situation closely.
Many of the Boards concerns echo those of parents. Chief among them the safety of the children. Because moving to a 4-day week would mean kids are in school later than they are already, there may be an issue with daylight and kids walking to and from school. According to Lere, they expect there will be a few weeks in December and possibly early January where a few students will be out after dark.
This is especially problematic in communities like Pueblo West. "Not only do they not have any sidewalks, they don't have any street lights, and so when it gets dark... it gets dark," says Lere. Which is why if things need to be adjusted the district is willing to do so. "The whole idea of saving that money, doesn't mean anything if we put kids in danger. It's just not worth it," says Lere.
How much money is the district looking to save by moving to a 4-day week? Lere estimates the savings will be between $800,000 and $1 million from bus transportation alone.
Currently, District 70 has 70 bus routes, and covers 7,000 miles every school day. They hope to get big savings by cutting 20 percent of that mileage, gas, and wages for drivers.
Another place the 4-day schedule is expected to save the district money is with substitute teachers. Other school districts have reported to D-70, they can expect to employ 25 to 33 percent fewer substitute teachers after switching to the new shorter week.
Another non-financial benefits the district hopes to see with the new 4-day week, is more teacher interaction with the children. The district plans to hold teacher training and meetings on the day students are not in session. This will keep teachers from having to be pulled out of class and replaced for that day with a substitute.
The district is also going to try and insist core skills are not taught in the last few hours of the day. Instead, physical education, art, music, and other elective type classes may be positioned near the end of the school day when students’ concentration levels are starting to diminish.
The long days are a concern for some parents, who question if the kids will be able to have the energy and focus to safely participate in after-school activities and sports.
One concern some parents have raised is what they are supposed to do with their child, especially elementary-aged kids, during that extra day off. Many parents work the traditional nine-to-five shift, but some families have a stay-at-home parent, or even a grandparent who can keep an eye on the youngsters. Several parents 11 news spoke with are concerned the 4-day schedule will cost them more money they don't have, to hire someone to watch their child once a week.
However, many families who have accepted the reality that the school is not their child's babysitter, have resolved to find a way to make things work. "We'll figure it out, we'll either get somebody to watch him, or as a family we'll just figure it out one way or another," says Ron Mehalovitz, the grandparent of a student at Sierra Vista Elementary School.
In the meantime, Lere says, more major cuts are coming. One idea that could put a big dent in D-70's $6 million budget shortfall may be combining two middle schools. Lere says, a single school would operate more efficiently and may lead to cutting a few staff positions.
According to Lere, staff salaries and benefits make up roughly 80 percent of the district's budget and a good portion of the cuts may have to come from there. This could mean a salary freeze, and even letting teachers go, something the district knows the teacher's union will not be pleased about.