Community weighs in on 4-day week

Sean C. Morgan

If School District 55 doesn’t go to a four-day school week next year, it’s going to have to find another $340,000 in cuts somewhere, according to Supt. Don Schrader at a forum Monday night at Sweet Home High School.

The forum didn’t prompt an outpouring of community participation. About 35 attended, and only about a third of those were not school district staff members, school board members or associated with staff members.

Parent Scott Weld said he was disappointed that the community wasn’t there and that the community was outnumbered by district officials. He wondered aloud whether that meant the community doesn’t really care about whether the district switches to a four-day school week.

He asked whether the district could get the information presented Thursday out to the community, and he urged the board to make the decision, make the cuts and rest assured that the community would “meld” into it as it has done for decades.

Parent Steve Hiett said he felt “fairly betrayed by the state for putting the School District into this crisis. He suggested that message should be conveyed back to the state.

His parents’ generation made sacrifices for the children, Hiett said, but he doesn’t see this generation making that sacrifice.

He also told Schrader that he found “disconcerting” the number of times staff development has come up during the discussion about a four-day week.

The four-day week would require teachers to work 17 Fridays in the sample calendar prepared by Schrader, and those days would be used for staff development, while at the same time increasing the total hours of instruction time at all grade levels.

Hiett said he had a problem with the math on the four-day week versus the five-day week. If the four-day week can net more hours of seat time, then the five-day week could too. He asked why the district doesn’t extend the day in the traditional schedule and then cut furlough days from it.

Schrader told him that teachers graduate from college with the training they need, but the industry changes. They need to keep up with those changes, such as the upcoming Common Core State Standards being imposed by the federal government in 2014.

Every piece of curriculum must be articulated to those new standards, Schrader said. The teachers have gone through the CIM-CAM standards to what they’re teaching now. Now they’ll have a different standard, and keeping up with changing standards is just one of the things they do in staff development.

“It still seems like we’re developing teachers instead of students,” Hiett said.

Schrader explained that data-driven research helps teachers learn the best practices for their classrooms, and they need to learn these to improve the academic achievement of their students. Right now, they really don’t have the time they need for staff development.

A four-day week would save the district money while providing that time to teachers and increasing seat time, Schrader said, although extending the day in the five-day week could be done.

Classified staff member Laura Gourley asked Schrader how students are supposed to pay attention during a longer class period, which at the high school level will increase from 49 minutes to about 62 minutes.

Schrader said that most of the students at Sweet Home High School have already experienced longer class periods – more than 80 minutes under the five-period day the school used last year. The school returned to a seven-period day and shorter classes this year.

It’s also the teacher’s job to keep students involved in the class, he said.

“As a teacher, I’m struggling this year with the shorter class period,” said Pat Davis, who teaches social studies at the high school. He liked the longer periods because he could divide them into sections of instruction and practice, reducing the amount of homework he would need to send home. When they’re doing their work in class, he’s there to work with the students, he said

High school art teacher Gelindo Ferrin called his subject “a process-oriented experience.

“In 49 minutes, we don’t have time to do that.”

Labs and shop classes are probably similar, he said, and if there isn’t enough time, the students aren’t getting what they need.

“It’s important to establish a relationship with every single kid that comes into your room or you start to lose them,” Ferrin said. “In art, we can’t get the work done at school, I can’t help them.”

Gourley also thought the longer day, with sports activities after school, would leave insufficient time for homework and even sleep.

One mother, who was at the meeting, with two children doing their homework at the meeting, noted that they’re off to school at 7 a.m. and home after 7 p.m. when they participate in sports.

Even now, a student athlete’s day can be long, Schrader said. Basketball teams practice late, with one of them ending at 8 p.m. or later, but having no class on Friday can help with the scheduling when teams get back late on Thursday or play on Friday.

Davis, who has also been a coach, agreed. “It’s not a perfect world with kids getting off the bus at midnight or 1 a.m. from Sisters or La Pine,” he said.

Schrader said late bus trips were one of the things he struggled with as a parent in Glide, which had a four-day week. It’s a concern for many, but “parents and kids, they made it work.”

Shari Smith, a staff member at the Boys and Girls Club, which has committed to handling the students on Friday at a reduced rate, asked Schrader what gets cut if the four-day week isn’t passed.

“Where’s that 2 or 3 percent going to come from?” she asked.

The savings, $340,000, is roughly 2 percent of the district’s budget.

Many districts cut junior high sports, Schrader said. One district in Texas cut its athletic programs.

Others cut art, music and other programs, he said. He can make the case why those are important too, but he is accountable for results in math, reading, writing and science.

“I’m not in favor of the four-day week,” said parent Liz Olsen. She said she values family time and questioned where that would fit in under a four-day schedule with a longer school day.

“If I could take time off on Friday, I would do that.”

She said she was also concerned about the potential for negative behavior with students out of school for the day.

The Boys and Girls Club will provide structured time for working on assignments, two meals a day and monitored play time, Schrader said. “That’s definitely a place where I’d send my kids.”

In a number of districts contacted by Sweet Home officials, “there just hasn’t been an increase in juvenile delinquency,” he said. “I’m not sure how much crime goes up on Saturday or Sunday when parents are working.”

Another parent said the only problem with the Boys and Girls Club is that the staff is not responsible for kids coming and going.

But Smith said the Boys and Girls Club doesn’t allow children who sign out to return, and the club has had only lost track of one child in the seven years she has been there. That child had walked home.

Former board member Leena Neuschwander quizzed Schrader about the plan and asked what he thought about using furlough days to make cuts.

“I don’t like furlough days,” he said. “It cuts into seat time. Once you start them, it’s hard to get rid of them.”

The district could take six furlough days this year and still meet state requirements for instruction time, though, Schrader said. People have been talking about taking up to six furlough days next year.

The district is trying to save more than $1 million in the next budget, Schrader said. It aniticipates being able to cut $340,000 in a four-day week. Other cuts will include $210,000 in administration, $60,000 in maintenance, $30,000 by changing elementary attendance boundaries, $50,000 in pool funding and spending $200,000 in reserve funds. Personnel reductions will happen through attrition, including three supervisory positions.

The district also will need to find an offset to furlough days in place this year, he said.

He told Neuschwander that the district has looked at contracting services, such as transportation and food services. The district hasn’t done a feasibility study, and he doesn’t know whether a cost-benefit analysis would support that change.

A new law prohibits districts from contracting transportation services if the savings are derived based on salaries and benefits, Schrader said.

Neuschwander asked about a 2-percent pay cut across the board, and Business Manager Kevin Strong said it would save the district about $190,000.

That would also be tough to negotiate, Schrader said.

Kristin Adams, GEAR-UP adviser for the high school, said that two-thirds of Sweet Home students qualify for free and reduced lunches. It’s such programs that’s going to keep those students in school, she said.

Schrader said he was a teacher in Sutherlin, living in Glide, when the four-day week was implemented in Glide. Two years later, the board voted to return to a five-day week; but the community liked the four-day week so much, the next day, the four board members who voted for it were named on a recall petition.

Schrader initially opposed the four-day week too, he said, but by the time he was superintendent at Glide, he had been convinced it was worthwhile.

He said when he arrived in Sweet Home, the board asked him to begin looking at the four-day week, a possible budget reduction item raised by former Superintendent Larry Horton. Schrader said he began the process with the idea that the success of all students is the district’s deep and moral purpose. Despite funding limitations, the board must make decisions to promote a sustainable budget while promoting that success.

“If we continue to spend the way we are and have less money coming in, that’s called deficit spending,” Schrader said. “And that’s not good.”

State revenue forecasts are down, and the district is looking for more than $1 million.

The four-day week has been implemented as far back as the 1930s, he said. It became more common in the 1970s.

Here it could help avoid arguably more difficult budget reductions, Schrader said. Among them are more staff layoffs, cutting nonacademic programs, reduction in services, larger classrooms, reduction of athletics, cutting music, reducing electives and more furlough days.

“If we take away the $340,000 then we’re just adding other ugly cuts,” Schrader said. “The goal is to save money, but we are trying to improve student success.”

With this change, the district can improve staff development, he said. Literature on the four-day week, little of it peer-reviewed, has been generally positive, describing improvements in student performance. Numerous districts visited by District 55 officials reported positive changes, with feedback from parents, teachers, students, administrators and classified employees.

Districts have had numerous concerns going into the four-day week, and a handful districts have gone back to five-day weeks.

They’re not entirely popular everywhere. Schrader said that in Harrisburg there is tension with an embittered classified union, particularly toward the teachers, who did not fight hard when bargaining the four-day week.

A Harrisburg principal said it was horrendous, and he didn’t have enough time, working every Friday and having a hard time finding people to do different tasks. That district is on track to save an anticipated $130,000 or more.

Classified employees were mixed in other district, some opposing it while others grew to like it.

A large part of the savings connected with a four-day week is in the salaries and benefits of classified employees. They won’t be cut a straight 20 percent because although they will lose a day, their other four shifts will be longer.

Survey results, the superintendent’s presentation from Thursday and more details are available on the School District’s website at sweethome.k12.or.us.

Schrader said he hoped the board would take action one way or the other at its meeting on Feb. 13. If the board approves a four-day week, the following months would be spent negotiating with bargaining units and preparing the calendar and schedule.

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