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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 20, 2006

Four-day week catches on in Idaho

By Anne Wallace Allen
Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho Several rural Idaho school districts are looking at compressing the school week from five days to four to save money.

The change is growing more common in Idaho and isn't unusual in other Western states.

"There's been an increased interest" in moving to a four-day week, said Mike Friend, executive director of the Idaho School Superintendents' Association. The Challis and Orofino districts went to a four-day week three years ago, and Boundary County and Bear Lake switched last year. A few more have voted to start a four-day week in September, and others are considering that move.

"I think you're going to see more of it, I really do," said Friend. "People are looking for the cost savings."

It was that search for savings that led Challis with just 470 students in grades kindergarten through 12 to end the academic week on Thursday instead of Friday. State law requires students be in school a certain number of hours per year. Challis, like other districts with four-day weeks, meets that requirement by holding classes longer from Monday through Thursday.

As it turns out, Challis probably isn't saving much money, said Superintendent Bruce Bradberry.

"There are so many variables," such as heating costs, Bradberry said. "It's hard to get a sense of whether or not there are savings."

But the district has kept the program in place because people seem to like it, he said and he thinks it helps attract teachers.

Don Bartling, superintendent in Boundary County, said his district expects to save $108,000 this year on heating, transportation, and salaries for custodians and other staff. The district went to a four-day week in September.

"We were trying to be as cost-effective as we could for our taxpayers," said Bartling.

Bear Lake County School District will save about $200,000 this year, said Superintendent Cliff Walters.

"We basically cut custodial staff salaries by 20 percent; we cut some other classified employees," said Walters, who said the district is waiting to see how the students do on standardized tests this spring before deciding whether to continue with the four-day week next year.

The shortened week isn't unusual in some other western states. About 50 of Colorado's 178 school districts run on it, said Steven Marantino, superintendent of Custer County schools in Westcliffe, Colo., which has been on the schedule for 25 years.

Marantino often gets calls from school district officials in other states curious to know how the schedule works. He tells them it suits rural districts.

"There is some savings, but it's not huge," said Marantino.

Many parents worry the longer school days of the four-day week are tiring for children. Bradberry said they aren't.

"Kids are a lot more flexible than we give them credit for," he said. "Teachers at the elementary level ... had to change their pacing and the way they do some things, but generally it hasn't been seen as a handicap."

But Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, who often uses the four-day weeks as evidence in his arguments that Idaho doesn't spend enough money on education, said the schedule is probably bad for the kids.

"What is the attention span of especially the younger kids, if you keep them there for a long period of time?" Schroeder said. "What's the longer effect of the test scores? It's not best for the children."

There hasn't been any measurable effect on test scores, superintendents said.

"The schools that I've talked to that have gone to the four-day week, none of them have said it affected their academic achievement," said Marvin Hansen, superintendent at Marsh Valley School District. The Marsh Valley school board voted last week to go to a four-day week next year, Hansen said. Many districts use Friday for all their sports and extracurricular activities, and Hansen said that helps keep student athletes in class Monday through Thursday, instead of traveling to games.

"Some believe their academic achievement has been increased," Hansen said.