|3/11/2014 1:35:00 PM|
Community to weigh in on four-day school
By John Griffith
|Research shows some four-day benefits|
|A four-day school week was the subject of a research brief by Christine Donis-Keller in February 2009, titled, "A Review of the Evidence on the Four-Day School Week." A full copy of the report can be read here.|
A summary of Keller's findings reads:
"A review of the literature on the impact of the four-day school week in the four areas of financial, achievement, other student and teacher outcomes, and stakeholder satisfaction reveals generally positive trends. Districts may not save as much as they hoped, but there are reported savings in transportation, food costs, and substitute teachers. The degree of additional cost reductions are dependent on the use of facilities during the off day and salaries for staff tied to the school calendar."
The four-day week seems to have no negative impact on academics. Keller finds that "there is some evidence that student and teacher absenteeism is lessened under a four-day week calendar, and there is greater opportunity for concentrated professional development."
Keller further notes that:
"While it is sometimes difficult to persuade stakeholders to move to a four-day school week, surveys have found that students, teachers and parents are generally enthusiastic about the practice. It should be noted, however, that few of the studies cited above have been held to professional scrutiny, and the results are often reported by states and districts implementing the practice."
Local parents have expressed some concern about the impact of having Fridays off on single-parent families and families where both parents work. Superintendent Jim Golden has acknowledged that the program could impact disadvantaged families disproportionately and that the district must find ways to help provide them with options.
Keller concludes that: "The four-day week is the preferred calendar of many small rural districts scattered across the country. These districts mostly boast widespread public support, no or positive impact on academic performance, and some financial savings. Savings, however, must be weighed against an increased length of the school day, childcare needs on the off day, and professional development needs to help teachers adapt to an alternative schedule."
Following four years of slashed state school funding, last year the Sisters School District exhausted its reserves.
Declining enrollment and a lack of contingency funds has left the district with what is estimated to be an $800,000 shortfall headed into the 2014-2015 school year budgeting cycle.
Between light-footed budget balancing and the local option, the district has - until now - maintained smaller class sizes and a full calendar of "contact" days, setting Sisters apart from other districts in Central Oregon, and most districts in the state.
This enviable position may have to change soon.
Superintendent Jim Golden made his first formal presentation on this shortfall to the school board on Wednesday. A packed house showed up for his presentation, following a March 5 article in The Nugget.
Because the board had not yet heard Golden's analysis and proposed options, no public testimony on the shortfall challenge was taken at the Wednesday meeting. Board Chair Don Hedrick urged those in the audience to attend the "Education/Budget Option Community Input Meeting" to be held on Wednesday, March 12 at 6 p.m. in the Sisters High School lecture-drama room.
Golden's current recommendation, based on his analysis and research, is to implement a four-day school week for students and most classified employees. His plan would leave teachers on a five-day week to allow for prep, collaboration, special projects and grading. This is projected to save about $500,000.
Golden prefaced his presentation: "These are preliminary numbers. This (budgeting) process will go on through the end of April with a decision made at the May 7 board meeting."
He said, "I think we have one of the best school systems in the state, not only because of our high test scores, but our good graduation rates, our innovative programs like IEE (outdoor education), luthier program, etc., but also because, and tonight is a great example, our community cares about it schools, our community is in our schools."
Golden outlined the contributors to the shortfall: The first was a decline of 215 students since 2006, including a loss of 101 since 2010 (a loss of roughly $700,000 in state pass-through revenue).
Additional drains on the budget come from a $125,000 yearly charge to pay back the Oregon Department of Education for a disallowed home-school program; a $267,000 payment due on the full faith and credit bond taken out for elementary school repairs in 2007; and $525,000 for teacher salary steps deferred in earlier years' labor contracts and due in
A significant chunk of the local option funds approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2013 is also not available to the district due to complex assessed property valuation clauses included in the 1990 Measure 5 and 1997's Measure 50 wording. Referred to as "compression," this amounts to $380,000 that taxpayers have agreed to pay, but have not been assessed.
Alternatives to the four-day week proposal are the layoff of 13 to 16 people ($800,000), the elimination of all-day kindergarten ($96,000), cutting school days ($32,000 per day), a rollback of classified/certified compensation ($543,000), elimination of music, art, shop and IEE ($500,000).
Golden is researching the possibility of including some of the shortfall items into a general bond election this November.
The reputation of Sisters School District programs currently brings in 86 kids from other districts ($600,000). Cutting staff will increase the highly attractive class sizes (Sisters High School at 23 versus Bend/La Pine at 33-plus).
Larger class size and/or the elimination of unique, innovative programs would likely make Sisters schools less desirable, conceivably reducing the number of transfer students, which would make the shortfall worse.
The reputation enjoyed by Sisters schools is also frequently cited as a major factor in many families' decisions to move to Sisters. Diminishing that reputation could worsen the enrollment decline and have a negative impact on Sisters' economy as a whole.
"The real answer is for tax reform in Oregon that includes a sales tax. Even with offsets for reducing income or property tax, Senator Haas of Beaverton has estimated that could bring in a billion more dollars in revenue ... this could be dedicated to the common school fund," said Golden.
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