LAND O'LAKES — With the district in perpetual cost-cutting mode, Pasco School Board member Steve Luikart keeps pushing for a closer look at four-day school weeks.
The savings could be in the millions, Luikart contends, while the academic losses likely would be minimal.
He's convinced his skeptical colleagues to at least consider the idea they once flatly rejected. Hesitant administrators have agreed to explore the concept to assess the costs and benefits.
But that's not good enough for Luikart. Now he's proposing a board-sponsored committee to analyze the idea and make recommendations, separate from any staff review.
"I've sat on school committees, as far as the district goes," Luikart said. "I'm not willing to go that way. I want to accomplish something."
He noted that when he brought up the notion of four-day weeks for the coming school year, superintendent Heather Fiorentino — who has made clear her distaste for the idea — pushed back her response to the point where it was too late to implement the shorter weeks, even if the board wished to do so.
He also questioned the accuracy of Fiorentino's staff estimate for the savings associated with changing the school week. The administration has stated that the district would save about $2.4 million on bus driver pay, $509,000 on fuel and $315,000 on building operations.
"I want a committee assigned by the board to report back to the board," Luikart said.
Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley praised Luikart for his initiative.
"He is interested in something and he wants to investigate it, and he wants there to be board involvement," she said.
She hasn't committed to the four-day week. But Hurley did like the committee concept.
"This board has indicated it wants to be actively involved from the beginning," Hurley said.
Board member Cynthia Armstrong was more reserved, saying the board had already asked the staff to look into the merits of four-day weeks. She wanted time to read Luikart's proposal.
Fiorentino sounded surprised when Luikart first aired his request for a committee at Tuesday's board meeting. She looked up from her papers to say that her staff planned to take up the issue soon after classes begin.
Fiorentino said the district calendar committee was available.
Hurley clarified that the goal was to have a board committee, not a staff one. Luikart agreed.
He has proposed a 15-member panel, with representatives from different departments and school levels, as well as parents and teachers. He has suggested the group meet twice monthly from September through February, then hold two public hearings before making recommendations to the board.
With budgets lean, many districts have explored cutting back school days. Marion County has authorized moving to four-day weeks, with each day being 75 minutes longer than currently, for the 2012-13 year unless the economy improves. The projected $4.5 million savings there would come primarily from busing and utilities, spokesman Kevin Christian said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that more than 120 districts in 21 states run four-day weeks. Most are small and rural.
Some of the criticisms of four-day weeks include a concern that school days would last too long, with little time for sports and other activities afterward, and that student learning could suffer with the extra day off. There have, in fact, been calls nationally for students to spend more time in school, not less.
Supporters, on the other hand, suggest that four-day weeks lead to improved morale and attendance, among other things.
Luikart said he wants a board committee to review all these subjects and more before making its recommendations.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614.