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Savings from 4-day school week not as great as expected

Savings from 4-day school week not as great as expected

September 25th, 2017 by Associated Press in Missouri News

EVERTON (AP) — The savings some Missouri school districts hoped for when switching to a four-day week in recent years haven't materialized, but district leaders say other benefits such as improved teacher morale and better student discipline have made the switch worthwhile.

A Joplin Globe review of financial data submitted by nine districts that have had the four-day week for at least three years found the savings varied — and in some cases the districts spent more. But most school leaders said their districts were not likely to return to a five-day week.

The Everton School District in southwest Missouri's Dade County was one of the first districts to adopt the shorter week when it made the change in 2013. At the time, it was in danger of losing accreditation because it scored 60 percent on its Annual Performance Report from the state. Enrollment was declining, teacher turnover was a concern, the rural district was in a financial crunch and the more than 60-year-old high school building was falling apart.

Five years later, the district's annual performance review score is in the 90s. Citing its "change in educational climate," the Missouri Association of Rural Education named it the outstanding rural school district of 2016.

"I don't want to give all the credit to the four-day week, but it certainly doesn't hurt," Superintendent Karl Janson said.

The Globe found seven of the nine districts spent at least as much money overall in the year after adopting a four-day schedule and four districts, including Everton, increased spending per student by more than 5 percent in the first year.

Transportation and energy costs did not reliably decrease, with four of the districts recording increased or static transportation spending in the first year and four districts seeing their energy costs increase. The most substantial savings came in food costs, with seven districts saving an average of 10 percent.

Ron Lankford, a former commissioner of finance for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said teacher and staff salaries account for much of school district costs, and they don't change with the four-day schedule.

The Orearville School District's change to a four-day week in 2013 "was budget driven; we were flat broke," said administrator Gene Neff.

The district saw savings in every major category. In the first year, food service costs declined 7 percent; energy costs fell 41 percent and transportation costs fell 8 percent. However, total savings — just under $13,000 annually — are small, accounting for roughly 2 percent of the rural district's annual expenditures.

But Neff said students are better able to focus after a three-day weekend, parents are pleased and tests scores are holding their own.

"I don't think there's a chance" the district will go back to five days, he said.