Board mulls 4-day week, budget cuts

Sean C. Morgan

Facing an as-yet unknown revenue shortfall for the 2012-13 school year, the District 55 School Board held a work session Monday evening to discuss options for dealing with a shortfall of up to $1.9 million, which would include the implementation of a four-day school week.

The total figuare isn’t simply a revenue issue as the district has already held off cuts by spending money from reserve accounts dedicated to retirement and maintenance, as well implementing four unpaid furlough days.

Assuming the School Board wants to add textbooks back into the budget next year and avoid spending reserves, Business Manager Kevin Strong estimated the district would need to find $1.5 million in reductions. If the district wanted to tap those funds again and leave out textbooks, it could get the total under $1 million.

That assumes the state doesn’t have any further revenue cuts in store for the district.

Based on what Strong called ballpark estimates and unsettled details about man-hours, the district could save $400,000 by switching to a four-day school week. That amount could increase to $575,000 if the district could successfully bargain for health insurance contributions to be paid based on hours worked per week instead of per day.

The majority of the savings would come with reductions in hours among secretaries, custodians, maintenance and assistants. The district also would find savings in substitutes, utilities and transportation costs.

One day less would also extend the life of the district’s bus fleet, Strong said, which would save money that was not accounted for in the estimate he gave Monday.

In addition to a four-day school week, Supt. Don Schrader outlined numerous other possible cuts, noting that no decisions have been made about any items on the list.

Among the ideas is the reduction of an assistant principal at Sweet Home High School following the retirement of the current principal, eliminating teachers, using a principal to pick up Title I coordinator duties, reducing maintenance staff, reducing assistants, cutting stipends, cutting junior high sports, reducing high school athletics, cutting the last of the district’s contribution toward the pool, cutting transportation, contracting for transportation and food services, redrawing elementary school districts, a furlough day, cutting field trips, cutting extra-curricular activities by 15 percent, freezing pay and spending money in the district’s maintenance and retirement reserve funds.

None of the ideas are set in stone, and three levels of cuts provided savings of $765,000, $993,000 or $1.9 million.

In addition, the district is looking at options to raise revenues too, Schrader said. The first is an idea to keep students in the district after high school, sending them to college while keeping some of the revenue associated with the students. He also suggested looking at the use of district facilities as another option.

“There’s a lot of options,” Schrader said. “And I tried to stay out of the classroom as much as possible.”

He believes that the four-day school week may be a way to do that – by increasing instructional time, unlike furlough days, which reduce instructional time.

At the same time, the four-day week will create more opportunities for staff development and the professional learning communities process, he said. That will improve education in Sweet Home even while reducing expenditures.

“I’m optimistic – we could do it if we can get to a million dollars,” Schrader said. The four-day week gets the district a long way toward that goal.

Board member Billie Weber told the board that the district should look at other options before going to a four-day school week.

Board member Chanz Keeney told the board that the district could cut five days from the school year, at the end of the year or at a time it protects parent interest rather than employee groups, without falling below required instructional time.

Furlough days don’t seem to have affected test scores, he said. Combining furlough days with retirement attrition could save up to $500,000.

“I think when the funds come back, it would be easy to add back the days without gutting our educational system,” Keeney said.

Board member David VanDerlip said he was really concerned about using the maintenance and retirement reserve funds.

“Are we going to be solvent?” he asked. “Are we going to be able to pay these bills when they come due?”

“Some of these options ought to happen no matter what,” said Chairman Jason Redick. For example, redrawing school attendance boundaries. That could save up to $25,000.

He was reluctant to support contracting for transportation and food service, he said. Those would be harder to restore to bring back local control if the district did.

However, he said, “We’re at the point we have to look at absolutely everything.”

Board member Dale Keene said he was open to looking at contracting food services, which would be easier to return to district control if it were contracted out for some period.

If the district stays with the five-day week, Schrader said, it will need to find time somewhere for the professional learning communities.

Redick said he has talked to people who went to schools with four-day weeks, and it wasn’t a problem for them. They liked it.

“I don’t know it’s as big a deal as it is looking at it from this side of it,” Redick said. “I think we need to continue looking at this.”

The School District is preparing a survey on the four-day school week and is seeking input from everyone in the district.

It should be on the district’s website,, by Wednesday, Schrader said. It will go home with students on Wednesday or Thursday, and district buildings will have paper copies available.

Schrader will present the results of the survey and further information about the four-day week at the Dec. 12 board meeting.

For further information, Schrader’s presentation from Nov. 14 and a frequently asked questions sheet is available on the website.

Present at the meeting were board members Mike E. Adams, Weber, Keeney, Keene, Redick, Mike Reynolds, VanDerlip, Jenny Daniels and Kevin Burger.