Avoyelles School Board asked to consider 4-day school week

School employees polled; issue to be discussed Tuesday

It didn’t take long for the first “boat shaking” suggestion to be raised by the new Avoyelles Parish School Board.

At the Jan. 22 Executive Committee meeting, board member Rickey Adams raised the question -- and a few eyebrows -- on going to a four-day school week.

“I think we need to look at it,” Adams said, noting that Caldwell Parish has had a four-day school week for nine years with great success. Superintendent Blaine Dauzat reminded board members that he once worked in Caldwell Parish schools and was a principal there when the schools converted to the four-day week.

He said it created a problem for students because it required longer school days for the four days in session.

“Without a doubt, the No. 1 advantage was in teacher recruitment,” Dauzat said.

Caldwell was able to attract teachers from larger parishes with more attractive salaries solely on the basis of the four-day week. The superintendent said students actually spend more time being taught by a certified teacher under the four-day week than in a five-day school week because there are fewer absences -- both with children and teachers.

In Caldwell, churches stepped forward to help address the childcare issue for that extra day-without-school.

“The churches did things with the kids on that day,” he noted.

TRIED BEFORE

Board member Stanley Celestine pointed out the district had tried a four-day school week several years ago that was not successful.Dauzat said that was not a “true four-day week” and was not properly planned or implemented.

Board members said the schedule was not consistent -- it was four days some weeks, five days some weeks and the day off was not always the same in the four-day weeks.

“If we do a 4-day week, it will have to be consistent,” Board President Lynn Deloach said.

Board member Aimee Dupuy asked that the teachers and school employees be polled for their thought on the issue.

Board member Chris Robinson focused on the issue from the parents’ perspective, asking, “Where will the kids go when both parents are at work?”

Board member Van Kojis also expressed concerns about the extra burden on parents, but also pointed out there are some children in the school system whose only decent meals are the breakfast and lunch they eat at school. He said a 4-day week could mean children going hungry for three days in a row instead of two.

Adams said his research shows a four-day week could save 2 to 2.5 percent in utilities, transportation and personnel costs. The personnel savings would primarily come from the reduced demand for substitutes in school and one less day of paying bus drivers.

Adams said employee morale was higher in a 4-day week, according to his research.

“The pros outweigh the cons,” he said.

Dauzat said there are a lot of pros and a lot of cons that need to be considered before undertaking that kind of change.

If the school district went to a 4-day week, the public charter and non-public schools relying on the district’s school buses for transportation would also have to adopt the shorter week, Dauzat noted.

A poll of school employees has been conducted and a report on those findings will be given at the board’s meeting Tuesday (Feb. 5.)

Adams said the 4-day school week is not “my personal agenda,” but brought the matter up for review because it appears to address some of the district’s major problems -- a financial crunch and teacher recruitment problems. “I just thought we should look outside the box and see if this might be a solution,” he said.

TREND ELSEWHERE

The move to 4-day weeks has been especially popular in Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon in the past few years.

There were so many school systems jumping on the 4-day bandwagon in New Mexico that state legislators put a halt to any more until the state can study its effect on student performance and low-income families.

There seems to be widespread agreement that the shorter school week saves
money and improves recruitment efforts. However, there are also critics who contend it could further impede academic opportunities for rural and low-income students.

COULD HURT STUDENTS

One of those critics, Paul T. Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, said that while some adults like the shortened schedule, it could hurt rural students.

“The idea has proved contagious because adults like it,” Hill wrote in a Brown Center Chalkboard blog in 2017. “Teachers have more free time and stay-at-home parents like the convenience of taking kids to doctors and doing errands on Friday.

“If local leaders are lucky, graduates of these schools won’t be any less well-educated than their siblings who went to school all week,” Hill continued, “but, in an environment where young rural adults already suffer from isolation and low economic opportunity, the shorter school week could exacerbate their problems.”

A 2011 report from the Education Commission of the States looked at six school districts that switched to a 4-day week. The savings ranged from 0.4 to 2.5 percent.

Another possible concern with a 4-day school week is the effect it could have on juvenile crime.

A June 2018 study in Colorado found juvenile crime increased by 20 percent in law enforcement districts with four-day schools.

“We find that the implementation of the four-day school week in rural areas leads to an increase in youth crime, particularly property crime,” researchers Stefanie Fischer and Daniel Argyle wrote in their report. “Our findings support the common belief that when youth are supervised, as they are in school, they are less likely to commit crime.”

Fischer is an assistant professor of economics at Cal Poly State University-San Luis Obispo. Argyle is a data analyst at FiscalNote in Washington, D.C.

The largest spike in crime rates was on Thursday nights, which Fischer and Argyle suggested may be the result of students treating Thursday night as the new Friday night, essentially gaining another weekend night.

Fischer and Argyle said their study highlights “the fact that policy makers should be aware of the unintended consequences associated with school schedules that result in more unsupervised time.”

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