Soda Springs School District moved to a four-day week roughly five years ago in an effort to cut costs.
School Board Chairman Alan Erickson said it was a split decision back then, and even now he said he doubts many school districts would choose to move to a four-day week if funding wasn’t a concern.
“If it was my choice and there wasn’t a money issue, we would have five days a week of school,” he said. “(But) it’s one of those places we felt like we could save a little money.”
It’s an issue many school districts are facing right now due to ever-shrinking budgets.
According to the Idaho Department of Education’s website, there were 44 school districts and charter schools in the state using a four-day week for the 2012-2013 school year. Comparatively, there were only 18 back in the 2009-2010 school year.
In it’s “Review of a 4-Day School Week” report, the Idaho Department of Education states that most districts consider the shorter week in response to “dwindling financial resources and declining enrollment.” The report also indicates that it’s an option typically pursued by “small, rural school districts as an alternative to cutting programs.”
Those who have made the switch say there are both pros and cons to the move.
Superintendent Sid Tubbs said Firth School District switched to a four-day school week last year in hopes of saving money, and there has been some financial benefit. The district hasn’t seen much of a change in utility costs, but it has saved money on salaries.
“Our paraprofessionals, cooks and bus drivers are working less days,” he said, adding that that was a difficult decision to make, but it has helped financially. “That’s been a pretty big savings.”
The Idaho Department of Education’s “Review of a 4-Day School Week” report, backs Tubbs’ finding up. It states that most districts that switch to a four-day schedule see some cost savings, but it’s not substantial.
“Most cost savings come as a result of decreased work schedules for classified staff who work on an hourly basis,” according to the report.
Erickson said Soda Springs School District has also seen some cost savings there as a result of the schedule change, but many of those funds have been eaten up by increases in utility, fuel and insurance costs.
“(Initially,) we had a savings of about $80,000 to $100,000, but the cost of fuel cut into that,” he said.
Still, it’s savings they couldn’t afford to lose at this point, he said.
Both Tubbs and Erickson say there have been some other less-obvious advantages to the four-day week as well.
Tubbs said Firth has seen an increase in attendance numbers, which can lead to additional state funding. He believes the numbers have gone up partly because officials try to schedule sports events on Fridays.
“Kids don’t have to leave school to go to ball games. And our coaches are all teachers so they’re not gone either,” he said, adding that they haven’t had to hire as many substitutes as a result.
Erickson said parents in Soda Springs also try to schedule doctor visits and other personal appointments on Fridays rather than taking their kids out of school for a day.
“You usually can’t get a dentist appointment on Fridays in Soda Springs,” he said.
Students who do miss a day of school also have time on Fridays to make up their lessons, he said.
Elementary teachers in Firth have also reported that they are able to go more in-depth with their lessons because they have a longer day and don’t have to move as quickly through the material, Tubbs said.
But there are downsides to the four-day schedule as well.
Erickson said the students are out of school for three days compared to two so they have more time to forget what they’re learning. And even though the longer school day can be advantageous when it comes to teaching lessons, it can also be harder on the kids.
Firth School District had to add an extra 40 minutes to the daily schedule as a result of the change there, Tubbs said, adding that high schoolers seem to be OK with it, but its tougher on the younger students.
And since Firth lets the students out for a break to help with the potato harvest in the fall, they have to start earlier in the year to make up the days.
“We start early in August and it’s awfully hot. Our buildings don’t have air conditioning,” Tubbs said. “That’s still a concern.”
Firth School District officials are also paying close attention to students’ scores to make sure their education isn’t suffering as a result
of the change. The school district recently reviewed that issue among others to ensure there weren’t any problems.
“There wasn’t any real discussion about going back to five days, (but there would have been if any of the) key indicators had shown they were not doing as well,” Tubbs said. “We want to make sure we’re not hurting our students academically.”
But the Idaho Department of Education’s “Review of a 4-Day School Week” reports that right now, “there is a lack of evidence that the 4-Day school week helps or hurts student achievement.”
Although 44 school districts and charter schools in Idaho have already made the switch to a four-day week, others are still trying to determine what’s the best move for them. And one of the biggest obstacles they face is community support.
Aberdeen School District recently decided to switch to a modified four-day schedule in hopes of saving roughly $80,000. The change would mean students would go to school five days a week through late September, and then switch to four days a week for the remainder of the year.
But community opposition to the move has caused officials to rethink their plans. Superintendent C. Jane Ward said some patrons believe the school district should cut costs wherever possible, but others feel the savings isn’t enough to warrant the change. That’s why the board is planning to revisit the issue next month.
“It has been approved, but the community has asked us to look at some different calendar (options),” Ward said. “We’re just hoping to get a calendar that can please everyone.”
Teton School District officials were also contemplating moving to a four-day schedule recently, due to an anticipated $500,000 shortfall in funding for next year, Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme said. But officials have decided against the move for now.
“There was concern about how dramatic of a change this would be, and its impact on families,” Woolstenhulme said, adding that the move would make it harder for working parents who can’t be home on Fridays to watch their children, and there was also concerns about how well the students would adjust to the longer days. “We decided it was not appropriate at this time.”
And Woolstenhulme said they are still facing a significant shortfall next year, and will have to look at other areas where they can cut expenses.
Although some eastern Idaho communities don’t support the four-day schedule, there are others that do. Both Firth and Soda Springs communities seem to like the schedule change.
Erickson said there are a lot of people in Soda Springs who enjoy having the extra time to spend with their families.
Tubbs said many of those in Firth feel the same.
“(The community) is overwhelmingly in favor,” he said, adding that most parents, students and staff members have liked the four-day week.
At a glance
The following schools in Southeast Idaho have adopted a four-day school week.
Bear Lake County
Idaho Science & Technology Charter School
Blackfoot Charter School
Source: Idaho Department of Education