The Pasco School Board correctly and mercifully pulled the plug on a money-saving idea that has lingered for the past six months — closing schools each Monday throughout the school year. But a report from a task force headed by School Board member Steve Luikart does have merit if its financial suggestions — separate from the four-day school week — translate into long-term savings of up to $3 million a year for a district facing a potential $25.6 million budget reduction in the coming months.
Among the ideas worthy of study are staff reallocations, rerouting buses and installing automated power controls for school vending machines and classroom lights.
The 131-page report, however, makes no compelling argument for a significant education and societal shift that would idle 67,000 children and 9,000 employees an extra day each week to reduce payroll, energy, utility and transportation costs. District administrators previously estimated the four-day week would reduce spending $3.2 million annually, but the task force projected savings twice as large.
Regardless, the cost cutting would bring no documented gains in student achievement, but would burden working parents with extra day-care costs and law enforcement with more crime. Sheriff's Office statistics showed a potential jump of 5,000 calls for service annually that could be attributed to a four-day school week. The agency said it could need five additional deputies to respond to calls about juvenile disturbances, noise, suspicious activity, petit theft, criminal mischief and burglar alarms. In other words, trying to balance the school budget would add strain to the county government budget.
Luikart asked for the task force to investigate spending cuts other than teacher lay-offs and trimming popular activities like athletics, band, and fine arts. Protecting classroom jobs became less of a priority when the district learned it likely will need to hire 126 teachers to meet class-size requirements and to avoid a multimillion-dollar state fine. Even if the district decided on a four-day school week, it could not implement the change before August 2013, making it irrelevant for closing a $25.6 million budget shortfall over the next four months.
Give Luikart and the task force an A for effort, but providing a quality and cost-effective education to Pasco's school children will take more than locking the classroom doors an extra day each week.