The Pasco County School District wants your thoughts on a proposal — still in its infancy and not guaranteed to be a sure thing — on the idea of more than 60,000 children idled an extra day each week of the school year.
It's called the four-day school week. Just as accurately, it could be called the three-day weekend.
For the kids, not the parents. You can fill out the district's survey here: bit.ly/pasco-four-day.
It is intended to measure community perceptions. It provides no hard data, but asks if participants will be willing to attend conveniently scheduled meetings for more information. It is anonymous.
This is the brainchild of School Board member Steve Luikart who says he wants better information on a four-day school week before deciding whether projected cost savings are worth the inconvenience. This exercise also is indicative of a frayed relationship between Superintendent Heather Fiorentino and board members who formed a committee to do their own research rather than just accept the previous data presented by Fiorentino's staff.
Political machinations aside, this proposal is being vetted because another difficult budget year lies ahead, even with the governor's professed new-found appreciation of the value of education and the need to fund it accordingly. The district expects a minimum deficit of $21 million because of expiring federal stimulus money and other lost revenue.
It previously projected a four-day school week would save $3.2 million annually, mostly through transportation (bus drivers would lose 35 work days) fuel and utility costs. Luikart says he would rather explore the four-day week than cut the curriculum. That is understandable particularly after the current budget eliminated more than 500 jobs, furloughed employees (1.5 percent pay cut), shortened physical education classes and required some faculty members, like technology specialists, to split their work week among multiple schools.
But the search for savings must go beyond sparing art and music classes and keeping the football team on the field Friday nights. Here are some of the questions to which the committee must obtain answers:
• Academic achievement. Will students remain attentive during a longer school day four times a week? There is plenty of data that documents a longer school day (adding hundreds of hours of teaching over the course of the school year) enhances student learning. However, try to decipher the affects of a longer school day during a shorter week. It adds no teaching time.
• Increased crime. Will our children be safe? The U.S. Department of Justice can pinpoint two spikes in the time violent juvenile crime occurs: Weekdays in the hours right after school ends and in the evenings on nonschool days. In other words, when kids are on their own.
• Costs to families. How are parents — facing stagnant wages, a jobless rate above national and state averages, and higher costs for groceries, fuel, insurance and other expenses — supposed to absorb new day care costs for younger children who now will need supervision an extra full day each week?
• Cost to society. Here is my own frame of reference: As an upstate New York middle school student in the 1970s, our student body shared a building with the high school for two years. The high school attended class from 7:30 to noon and we went from 12:30 p.m. to 5. It was a five-day-a-week schedule, but the double sessions left too many teenagers with too much unsupervised time on their hands. The most noteworthy byproduct was a report that teen pregnancies among the students grew from six to 31, a 500 percent increase, in a single school year.
Will anyone be surprised if similar statistics emerge 40 years later when Pasco's teenagers suddenly find themselves free from school attendance every Monday or Friday?
• Funding. Cost savings could be lessened if the change leads to fewer students enrolling (thereby cutting state funding). The district expects an exodus of children whose parents will choose to enroll them in five-day-a-week charter schools.
If you've got your own ideas or issues to be considered, be sure to share them on the survey. The only question that gave me pause was trying to measure the level of objection.
Or, strongly oppose?
This is a professional researcher's attempt to differentiate between "No.'' And, "Hell, no!''