As the Morgan County School District goes through the arduous process of tackling their budgetary woes, boardmembers and many in the community tried to come up with solutions. The idea for changing to a four-day school week was briefly discussed.
Superintendent Doug Jacobs said he is willing to explore the idea and would like to survey the public in the near future to gauge their interest.
Not surprisingly, Morgan is not the first Utah school to flirt with the idea of a four-day school week. In fact, interest in the schedule may come from the state itself, which experimented with a state-wide, four-day work week beginning in 2008.
Currently there are nine Utah schools operating on the four-day school week. This includes Tabiona School (kindergarten through 12th grade) in the Duchesne School District, all four schools in the Tintic School District, and all four schools in the Rich School District.
“There have been academic successes by districts that have implemented” the four-day week, said Morgan County School Boardmember Mark Farmer. “But they are smaller districts than Morgan with more transportation issues, like spending four hours on buses each day.”
While the schedule is definitely more popular in rural areas with small schools and long bus commute times, more and more school districts are trying it out. A 2011 Washington Post survey put the number of school districts in the nation with a four-day school week at 292, more than doubling a 2009 estimate of 120.
Many say four-day school weeks got their start in America in the 1930s during the Great Depression, while others say the move was more recent. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, New Mexico led the way in the shorter school schedule.
“I’m not sure if it is right for Morgan right now,” Jacobs said.
As Morgan’s school district grapples with cutting $313,000 from the budget, a potential of saving as much as $450,000 by moving to a four-day school week looks tempting. According to documents Jacobs shared with school board members in August, the district could save 20 percent on teacher aides, paraprofessionals, guidance personnel, health services personnel, media personnel, secretarial, clerical, drivers, mechanics, fuel, gas, electricity, and food service salary expenses. Savings could reach to 32 percent for substitute teaching expenses.
But not without changing things up a bit first.
In a four-day school week, students obviously have a longer school day. Each class period goes from an hour on a five-day schedule to 70 minutes on the new schedule, lengthening the school day by an entire hour.
In Oregon, students used to start school at 8:20 a.m. and dismiss at 3:15 p.m. On the four-day schedule, class begins at 7:55 a.m. and ends at 3:45 p.m. They also have implemented “Friday school,” where students with slipping grades can come to make up work.
In Oregon, “Friday school” is mandatory for students with failing grades. At the end of the school week, if students have a failing grade in any class, they must make up any missed work or re-take exams on Friday.
When students are gone, thermostats are dialed down to 55 degrees at Marsh Valley High School in Idaho to save energy costs.
To see a comprehensive list of pros and cons of a four-day school week, read Part 2 of the “FOUR or Against” series next week.