4-day school week idea stays alive after vote

Sean C. Morgan

The District 55 School Board voted 7-2 Monday night to continue gathering information about switching to a four-day school week.

Voting to stop the study were Chanz Keeney and Billie Weber. Voting to continue the study were Mike E. Adams, Dale Keene, Chairman Jason Redick, Mike Reynolds, David VanDerlip, Jenny Daniels and Kevin Burger.

The decision came after the board finished reviewing 575 completed surveys that Supt. Don Schrader characterized as roughly 50-50 on the question.

“The numbers are really close,” Schrader said. They could change based on about 75 surveys the district still has to tabulate. “Again, I think it’s really 50-50.”

Classified association president Lisa Gourley presented a petition with some 640 signatures opposing the four-day week.

Keeney and Weber told their colleagues that the board should find other ways. While VanDerlip voted to continue considering the four-day week, he suggested that across-the-board pay cuts of 4 to 5 percent should be on the table, noting that, combined with furlough days, it could get close to the $1.5 million the district may need to cut for next year’s budget.

Schrader presented a timeline with visits to other districts on Jan. 2 and a board decision on Jan. 9, with a community information forum following on Jan. 12.

Reynolds said he wanted to see more information, and he thought the district could wait until February before the board makes a decision.

Keene said he would like to see more information from school districts that have a four-day week.

Gourley said that she has been canvassing the community since the timber crisis for a variety of reasons.

“I have never had a canvass where people invite you into their homes to talk more about it,” Gourley told the board. Respondents thanked the canvassers for gathering the petitions and sharing information about the four-day week.

Of everyone she talked to, only three would not sign her petition, Gourley said. Another canvasser had only one person who would not sign.

“They understand how something like this and contracting things out (like transportation and food services) will gut your community,” Gourley said, adding that she hopes history will show that the School District put education first in Sweet Home.

She urged the board to avoid cutting the easy parts, the classified, who work throughout the district taking care of and educating children.

“They make this work, and they have carried this load,” Gourley said. They are real people, and every little decision, every little cut, affects them. Some have even lost their homes.

Gourley did not have a copy Monday night of the flier or the questions canvassers asked, but she told the board she could provide them.

The four-day week will save an estimated $400,000, more than half of that by cutting classified support staff time. Since many classified employees don’t work full days, the cuts won’t quite reach 20 percent for those. Also, many classified will have more daily hours during the four regular school days.

“You start looking at where we are financially and where we’ve been at financially for years now, it isn’t getting better,” Redick said. He said he doesn’t know how the district can cut its budget without impacting kids in the classroom or staff, which represent some 85 to 90 percent of the budget.

“It’s going to affect employees no matter what we do,” Redick said.

“I’ve pretty well been the voice against it,” Keeney said. “I’m trying to listen to the pros and cons of it.”

But what he’s hearing from the people who voted for him is opposition, he said. Outside of teachers, he hasn’t talked to anyone who supports a four-day week.

“If we go to a four-day week, it’s not going to solve our problem,” Keeney said. The district could save $400,000 at the bargaining table.

On the contrary, he worries that if the district saves $400,000 on the four-day week, it will be swallowed up in raises, Keeney said. “If we go with a four-day week, are you guys going to turn around and hand out raises? Is that what this is all about?”

It will have a disproportionate effect on the classified, VanDerlip said. He’s concerned about the effect on employee morale.

The four-day week isn’t going to be enough, VanDerlip said, and there are no good solutions.

The one thing that he hasn’t seen talked about is asking employees to take a 3- or 4-percent pay cut to save jobs, VanDerlip said. All employees would share some of the pain.

That’s not an unreasonable question for discussion, Keeney said. It happens all the time in the private sector. It has the same effect as furlough days, except the students are in class.

“But that’s a negotiation nightmare,” Keeney said.

The four-day week will drop many employees below the threshold for insurance, which is why they work, Keeney said. They’ve been under stress from this discussion, and it’s Christmas. He suggested that the discussion could end that night.

Looking at the surveys, community input appears to be 50-50, Daniels said, and among those she has talked to, most support a four-day week. That includes classified, who know it’s not a one-fifth cut.

“They know it has to come from somewhere, and they don’t have any suggestions,” Daniels said. People she’s talked to who don’t support the four-day week haven’t been able to explain any alternatives.

Schrader divided survey results into two parts, the on-line survey and a pencil-and-paper survey.

The on-line group, a total of 248, was 38 percent teachers, 28 percent parents, 24 percent classified, 13 percent community members and 9 percent students.

Some 52 percent believed that a four-day week would negatively affect children due to the longer school day, while 42 percent disagreed. Forty-nine percent believed it would negatively affect children due to fewer days, while 41 percent disagreed.

About 72 percent said the financial savings justified a four-day week, although only 42 percent believed it would improve academic performance due to more instructional time.

Only 19 percent said they would have a hard time finding daycare for their children, but 24 percent said it would be a hardship due to increase childcare costs.

Along with the four-day week, nearly 80 percent said the district should look for cuts in administration, and the district is planning just that, Schrader said. Next year, the high school will cut one vice principal position following the retirement of Principal Pat Stineff. Some 40 percent supported closing the pool if the local option levy failed, while 39 percent opposed closing the pool; and 59 percent supported the use of furlough days.

The pencil and paper group, a total of 327, was 2 percent teachers, 58 percent parents, 5 percent classified, 5 percent community members and 31 percent students.

Some 46 percent believed that a four-day week would negatively affect children due to longer school days, while 40 percent disagreed. Forty-four percent believed it would negatively affect children due to fewer days, while 45 percent disagreed.

About 56 percent said the financial savings justified a four-day week, although only 35 percent believed it would improve academic performance due to more instructional time.

Twenty-five percent said they would have a hard time finding daycare for their children, but 31 percent said it would be a hardship due to increase childcare costs.

Some 49 percent said the district should cut administration. Nineteen percent supported closing the pool if the local option levy failed, while 65 percent opposed closing the pool; and 53 percent supported the use of furlough days.

In other business, the board:

n Approved the retirement of Sweet Home High School Principal Pat Stineff.

n Approved the use of 50 percent of tuition fees from the Josai exchange program in Josai activities.

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