Broward County schools consider four-day school week
Shorter school week for Broward County high schools could save money
By Kathy Bushouse and Akilah Johnson
Add four-day school weeks for high school students to the list of options the Broward County School Board is weighing to save money.
During a Tuesday workshop, board members directed Schools Superintendent James Notter to study the idea to prepare for up to $160 million in possible budget cuts from the state for the 2009-2010 school year.
Such a move would take more than a School Board vote. Changing all high schools to a four-day week would require negotiations with the Broward Teachers Union, although an individual school could make the switch if two-thirds of the school´s teachers and staff agreed, Notter said.
The savings, he said, would come from lower transportation and utility costs. Salaries wouldn´t change if high schools moved to a four-day week, he said.
There´s no guarantee that the union could be persuaded to agree. Notter said Tuesday that another proposed change - moving all high schools to a uniform, seven-class schedule to save $35 million - likely wouldn´t happen until the 2010-2011 school year because the teachers union wanted to enter formal negotiations on the schedule change.
The teachers union and school district are battling over raises for the next school year.
Broward´s proposal comes before the next session of the Legislature, set for Tuesday, which could take up a bill calling for four-day weeks. Under the bill filed by state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Daytona Beach, schools no longer would be required to be open 180 days a year, as long as students put in the same number of hours. That could lead to four longer school days.
Marc Scanlon said his daughter, a freshman at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, “would love it” if the district moved to a four-day school week. Classes would be longer, providing more time for learning, he said. The school is currently on a block schedule, which means students have four 90-minute classes for a semester.
“In science, they could conduct experiments without having to stop ... almost like a college experience,” Scanlon said. “As far as my family, it wouldn´t really impact us that much. My wife is a stay-at-home-mother, so we wouldn´t have any child-care issues. We´re lucky.”
Notter said, as part of its review, the district also would look at four-day weeks for elementary and middle schools. But the superintendent said he would have concerns about moving younger students to a shorter week. Part of that examination, he said, includes how a four-day school week would affect parents´ child-care arrangements.
A four-day school week would definitely create child-care problems for Brian Paolini, whose twin daughters are in third grade at Deerfield Beach Elementary School. But Paolini said what concerns him more is that their education might suffer.
“To try to cram five days worth of learning into four is just a bad idea,” he said. “I´m quite sure it would be quite beneficial as far as all the expenses go, but it would not be beneficial for our children.”
The child-care concerns are why Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson said he would not recommend a four-day school week for his district. The savings in transportation and utility costs would be more trouble than it´s worth, he said.
“I don´t see where our community would be able to gear up to handle 170,000 students out of school one day a week,” Johnson said.
Some Broward School Board members approached the idea of a four-day school week with caution. “I think we ought to approach the reduction of days in school very, very judiciously,” said School Board Chairwoman Maureen Dinnen. “That really, really bothers me academically.”
But board member Bob Parks said the idea should be considered. “If you´re in a crunch time, tough decisions have to be made. ... It may be a controversy, but everything is on the table,” he said.
Tammy Sigwardt, whose son, a high school sophomore, also attends Cypress Bay, doesn´t have a problem cutting a day out of the school week. But she thinks the district would save more by eliminating what she called wasteful spending.
“Why do you send home five workbooks with my son, then they complain they have no money for the budget,” Sigwardt said. “They´re never touched.”
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