The advantage of cost reductions would have to be weighed carefully against the effect on students’ education if schools had the choice of a four-day week, some local school officials say.
Running school buses and serving school lunches one day less each week are some of the plus-side arguments being made about the proposed state law. It would give school districts the option of cutting out one day of weekly attendance. The bill has passed the Illinois House of Representative, but no vote in the state Senate has taken place yet.
Mattoon school Superintendent Larry Lilly said U.S. students “already go a fewer number of days” than students in other countries, and much of the discussion in education circles in recent years has been about making the school year longer.
“Educationally, to cut back on those days would be a disservice,” Lilly said.
The proposed legislation would offset the shorter week by making each school day longer, but Lilly said that would probably hurt productivity, especially with kindergartners and other young students.
“We’re not talking about adults here,” he said.
Charleston Superintendent Jim Littleford seemed open to a cautious approach toward considering a four-day school week.
“We’d have to analyze and take a strong look at it,” he said. “There’s a variety of things we’d want to look at.”
The Charleston district recently went through making about $1.6 million in budget cuts. With that and the questionable outlook for state education funding, the district at least would explore the four-day week if the cost savings were significant enough, Littleford said.
First, though, district officials would want to look for data on how a shorter week would affect student learning, Littleford said. There’s also the concern about parents needing to find child care for the extra day there’s no school and the risk that some children might be unsupervised, he said.
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Cumberland School District Superintendent Russell Ragon said he wouldn’t support a four-day school week, and it would be better to increase the number of days in the school year.
“I don’t think it’s educationally sound for our students,” he said.
The change could pose “an extreme hardship” for some parents who are working and need to arrange child care, and it also could hurt some students because school is where they have “their best meals and the most comfortable places,” he said.
Running school buses four days each week instead of five could mean a 20 percent reduction in transportation costs, or a savings of about $84,500 to the Charleston School District, financial consultant David Kuetemeyer said. There also could be a $177,000 savings in food services if lunch and breakfast weren’t served one day each week.
“That’s assuming we can renegotiate our contracts,” Kuetemeyer explained, as the Charleston district employs companies to provide transportation and food services.
One day without school also would decrease utility expenses, but how much that savings would be is difficult to calculate, he said.
“We’d have a whole day when we wouldn’t have the revolving doors with children going in and out,” Kuetemeyer said.
Tom Sherman, Mattoon’s assistant superintendent for business, said the savings from using buses four days a week instead of five would amount to less than 1 percent of the district’s budget. Fuel savings would come to about $78,000, and the staff savings would be about $125,000, he said. Also, there might not be that much in utility savings because the district would still have to heat and cool buildings, and food service costs are based more on demand, namely how many students eat the school lunches..
Ragon said the Cumberland district will spend about $800,000 in school bus transportation this year, and other possible savings could be in food service, utilities and “all noncertified staff.”