Scrimping Schools Try a 4-Day Week

Associated Press Writer

Webster County High senior Zach Cato, 17, spends his Mondays mowing lawns and watching football game films. He's not cutting class -- he's taking advantage of his school district's move to a four-day week.

"The only ones who are complaining are the ones who don't want to be here at all," Zach said.

By using the shortened schedule, rather than cutting extracurricular activities, the district of 1,900 students in this western Kentucky farming and coal mining region hopes to save about 2% of its annual spending -- or $200,000 -- on bus service, substitute teachers and utilities. It is the first school district in Kentucky to go to four days.

Mostly rural school systems in at least 10 other states have made the switch to save money: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to a 2002 survey by the National School Boards Assn.

"It's the easiest way to cut to get a quick result fast, to get more money," said Linda Embrey, association spokeswoman.

The verdict is still out on whether students perform as well and whether schools save enough money to justify the switch. But Webster County Assistant Supt. Rachel Yarbrough said that, in its first year, it appears to be a success so far.

Students are encouraged to make dental and doctor appointments on their Mondays off so that they miss fewer classes. Another benefit is that teachers have more time for planning and faculty meetings, said Carolyn Sholar, Webster County High principal.

And the students "really feel like they're not as burned out," she said.

To meet state guidelines, the school day was extended by 30 minutes. In addition, schools will be in session on Mondays in eight weeks of the year -- the last four weeks of each semester -- to help students prepare for Kentucky's end-of-the-year assessment exams.

Tabitha Daniel, an education professor at Western Kentucky University, said many parents might not be able to afford extra child care if their children are off on Mondays. She questioned whether the money saved is worth the stress to families.

"I just think there are going to be a lot of children that are unfortunately going to be alone on Monday," she said. "I just think that's very, very sad."

To help parents find day care on Mondays, the Webster school system put together a pool of baby-sitters, some of them high school students, who could be called. They were trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Churches also offer programs to watch youngsters.

Nationwide, school systems are being squeezed by budget cuts and more stringent federal education standards.

"Right now, you can't afford to do anything that will slow the progress of student achievement, but you also can't operate at a deficit or print your own money," said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Assn.

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