NEW ULM - It wouldn't happen next year - because it requires substantial planning and bringing many interest groups on board - but a potential switch to a four-day school week is generating some serious discussion in District 88.
The idea is being considered as part of ongoing budget planning - as officials look for ways to save money during a challenging financial future.
The four-day week concept is being implemented in 17 states, Superintendent Harold Remme reports.
Several states have enacted legislation promoting the concept: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
A four-day week is being considered by an increasing number of MInnesota schools, with implementation reasons tending to be financial and geographic.
The impact on student achievement tends to be neutral, says Remme, but the concept raises questions about the work schedules of non-teaching staff (custodians, clerical employees, etc.).
What a four-day week could look like
The concept can be implemented on a variety of ways.
Student days could run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and staff days from 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
"Off-days" could be scheduled on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Off-days do not have to happen every week; or, they could be half days.
Assuming an after-Labor Day start of the student school year (currently a state law), students would be in school for 138 days, and staff for 160 days, with extra half-days available for staff.
The number of staff days has traditionally been a negotiation issue in District 88, and can become a matter of concern.
What research shows
Research of the four-day concept indicates both positive and negative outcomes, notes Remme.
On the positive side, the four-day week results in:
Improved attendance for students and staff;
Improved staff morale;
Improved staff development opportunities;
Potential for tutoring on off-days;
Possibilities to schedule medical and dental appointments for students and staff on the off-day without sacrificing class time;
Fewer interruptions of class time;
Improved teacher recruitment;
Decreased discipline referrals;
Allowing students to increase part-time jobs;
Parent satisfaction- with more family time on long weekends;
Increased opportunities for things to do on off-days: staff development, field trips, snow days make-up.
Retention concerns for at-risk students, with the three-day lapse;
A long day for younger students and special needs students - that may be inappropriate for their developmental age;
Attention span concerns, with longer class periods;
Earlier and later busing times;
Potential daycare issues for families;
Potential to complicate practice and game schedules;
Conflicting messages about time on task;
Reduced employment for bus drivers and support staff;
Loss of food service revenue;
Complications with employee contract adjustments.
The four-day week could help save on costs such as busing, substitute teachers, support staff, food service and utilities.
Currently, District 88 spends about $1.35 million to bus students to and from school. This means that, if the four-day week helps save 20 percent of that cost, the busing cost savings would amount to $270,000. Fifteen percent savings in busing costs would amount to $202,000; 10 percent to $135,000, and 5 percent to $67,500.
The busing contract would be subject to negotiation with the busing company, which could have repercussions of it own.
Last year, District 88 spent $186,129 on substitute teachers. Based on this number, 20 percent savings in this category would amount to $37,225; 15 percent to $27,919; and 10 percent to $18,612.
Substitute support staff cost the district $155,474. Based on this figure, 20 percent savings would total $31,094; 15 percent to $23,321; and 10 percent to $15,547.
Food service substitutes cost $14,020. Based on this amount, 20 percent savings would amount to $2,804; 15 percent to $2,103; and 10 percent to $1,402.
A utility savings estimate was not available at the time of publication. These costs would, of course, vary depending on the specific weekly schedule. Buildings would still need to be at least partially heated on student off-days.
Educators and others should "take some time thinking this through; at least a year," said Remme.
A change of such magnitude, he notes, would require "a community conversation - with everyone."
For the purposes of perspective, students are currently in school for 30 weeks per calendar year. Eleven out of these weeks are short weeks - of four days or less.