More districts experimenting with four-day school week local news joplinglobe.com gas prices going up in nj

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The growing popularity of the four-day week in Missouri comes as education funding continues to fall short of the amount called for by the state foundation formula. This school year, the gap between what lawmakers allocated and what the formula called for was $398 million for all Missouri schools.

Administrators in Jasper say they hope the change will yield savings for the district. With its municipal tax base already stretched thin — Jasper receives 5 percent less in funding from local sources than the average Missouri school system — cutting the budget was the only alternative.

“Financially, it really seemed to make a lot of sense for us right now,” Christina Hess, principal of Jasper High School, said of the shift to the four-day week. “We had to make some really serious cuts anyway, but the potential savings helped us to save making some other cuts.”

Hess said she expects the shorter week to save money on such things as food service and bus fuel — 20 percent, in theory — as well as from pay and benefits for custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, the school nurse and other support staff who will also stay home on Mondays and be paid for only four days per week. Teacher pay is not impacted.

While the four-day week first gained popularity as a cost-cutting strategy, additional benefits of the schedule drew the attention of fiscally stable districts such as Miller and Pierce City, which have not cut pay or benefits for non-certified staff. Superintendents there cite teacher and student satisfaction — not cost savings — as the primary motivation for the change.

Between youth football and a varsity volleyball match, the Jasper schools parking lot was full on a recent Friday evening. Children played on the grass or waited, piled into vans, while their siblings finished at practice. Parents just off work sat in folding chairs, watching their young sons’ progress on the field.

Though a four-day school week was first attempted by a South Dakota school district in the 1930s, it remained an oddity of education policy until 40 years later, when the OPEC crisis sent oil prices skyrocketing and school districts in search of fuel savings. Sparsely populated rural districts, whose school buses cover more miles than urban districts, were among the first to try it, and most four-day districts are still located west of the Mississippi River.

In Jasper, those four remaining school days have been extended by 30 minutes each. Professional development time for teachers, which had been scattered throughout the school week in the past, and which had traditionally resulted in some early-out days, has been consolidated into Mondays, meaning the teachers have a five-day school schedule once a month. Students also will be going to school on days they might have traditionally been off, such as a shorter Christmas break this fall.

“For teachers there’s a big benefit,” said Willa Tucker, a veteran teacher in Stockton schools. “If we didn’t have Mondays to do curriculum and paperwork and come up with effective lesson plans, well, something’s got to give. There’s only so many hours in the day.”

Since the district went to the new schedule last year, Tucker has come to work every Monday — even days she should have off — to write lesson plans and grade student work. But she says this is an improvement over the previous 25 years of her career, when she was also raising her children.

Two years ago, when Storm started as superintendent, 25 percent of Miller’s 44 teachers departed, barely down from 27 percent the year before. A year into the new schedule, teacher retention has improved: Only 15 percent of Miller’s teachers left during the first year of the new schedule, Storm said.

Not all Missouri districts experimenting with the four-day format have stuck with it, however. Two years after making the switch, the Lexington School District returned to a five-day week, becoming the only district to do so since the policy’s implementation. Lexington added an hour to each school day when it went to the four-day plan.

Superintendent Dan Hoehn said there were no improvements in student achievement or teacher retention, and that budgetary gains — the primary reason for the shift — were smaller than expected. With more than 900 students, Lexington is on the large end of small and rural, especially considering its technical education center that brings in additional students from other districts. Absent the benefits other smaller districts saw on a four-day schedule, administrators could no longer justify its costs.

The Lathrop School District — the first to adopt the the four-day week in Missouri — reported annual savings of about 1.5 percent, or $125,000. Schools in Miller saw similar outcomes in the first year of the policy: districtwide savings of $55,000, particularly on electricity, bus fuel and propane, or about 1 percent of the district’s total budget.