LAND O'LAKES — The four-day school week officially became a possibility late Thursday, as a district task force convened to explore the idea.
"We're here to look at possible ways to offer as many opportunities for students as possible," said chairman Steve Luikart, the School Board member who proposed the panel. "When we are cutting things, I don't think we need to impact students."
The school district expects to lose at least $22 million in federal funds in 2012-13, as the so-called EduJobs grant expires. Board members reluctantly approved moving ahead with talk of a four-day week only after cutting positions and freezing pay to cope with a $60 million shortfall this year. They hope to avoid more drastic reductions next year.
District finance officials have projected savings of about $3.5 million if schools move to a four-day week. Most of the savings would come from gasoline, energy, and bus driver and cafeteria worker salaries. Teachers also would lose some pay, with one less paid lunch break per week.
Luikart insisted that the task force focus on gathering impartial data and public opinion.
"I would like to have everyone think of this as wide open. How can this benefit the district? Or can it benefit the district?" he told the committee. If members cannot overcome their biases, he added, "I ask you to let me know at the end of this meeting and give your notebook back."
None of the task force members quit on the spot. Most of them have ties to the district, the United School Employees of Pasco, or both.
Just four in attendance identified themselves as parents only.
"We have to be willing to think outside the box," said John Thompson, a parent from Bayonet Point.
Most people are familiar with the five-day school week that starts in late summer and runs through late spring, he noted. But that might not be what works best.
"We just can't look at what is there," Thompson said. "It's our responsibility, I believe, to use it like a research project or looking to patent something new. You've got to be wide open to see what it brings us."
To start, the task force received four possible scenarios for investigation. They are:
• Closing all schools and district buildings on Mondays
• Closing all schools and district buildings on Fridays
• Closing only middle and high schools on Mondays or Fridays
• Closing all schools and district buildings every other Monday or Friday
These are simply a starting point, though. Committee members plan to break into groups to collect information on several aspects of the concept, such as possible effects on academic performance and criminal activity.
A small percentage of school districts around the nation, mostly rural ones, have adopted four-day weeks and might have results to share. A handful of academics have studied the model and found varying outcomes.
Just one Florida school system, Marion County, has approved four-day weeks for 2012-13. A spokesman for the Marion district has said that school board did not have written reports to explain its decision.
Pasco's panel also intends to have three public hearings in February, in addition to conducting one or more surveys, before making a presentation to the School Board in March.
"Get information from people across this county and leave no one out," Luikart said.
USEP negotiator Jim Ciadella asked whether the district has begun receiving input from parents or community members.
Luikart said he had gotten calls already. Most people wanted to know what their children would do on the day they're not in school, he said.
He also listed other possible concerns, not the least of which would be families choosing other options.
"We know if we go to a four-day week, charter school enrollment is going to go sky high," Luikart said. "We cannot afford to lose any more funds than we've already lost."
All such details will go to the School Board, which will make the final decision.
Task force meetings are open to the public. The next one is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the School Board meeting room in Land O'Lakes.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.
The make-up of the Four-Day Week Task Force is still in flux. Initially planned to include 15 members, the panel has grown to 33. The current members are:
Steve Luikart, School Board member, chairman
John Simon, director of information services
Angel Cook, parent, Trinity
John Soler, district energy coordinator
Jody Bertram, teacher, Mitchell High
Melissa Musselwhite, director of human resources
Andrea Walker, parent/John Long Middle School teacher
Gary Sawyer, director of transportation
Caroline Vorse, teacher, Longleaf Elementary
Rick Kurtz, director of food and nutrition services
Carol Vespa, parent, New Port Richey
Sean Brock, curriculum supervisor
Allan Urbonas, parent, Land O'Lakes
B.J. Smith, principal, Seven Oaks Elementary
John Thompson, parent, Bayonet Point
Shea Davis, principal, Weightman Middle
April Gilbreath, parent
Monica Ilse, principal, Anclote High
Laura Metallo, teacher, Chasco Elementary
Mary Grey, PLACE supervisor
Kenny Blankenship, USEP vice president
Lt. J.R. Law, supervisor, school resource officers
Robert Marsh, teacher, Land O'Lakes High
Kevin Shibley, director of employee relations
Cathi Jarvi, teacher, Centennial Middle
Lee Kulikauskis, teacher, Gulf Highlands Elementary
Jessica Metzler, counselor, Anclote Elementary
Maryanne Brini, bus driver
Doug van Etten, teacher, Schwettman Education Center
Grant Young, teacher, Pasco High
John Kinsman, parent, Zephyrhills
Lynne Webb, USEP president
Jim Ciadella, USEP negotiator