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  1. Education

Parents raise concerns over four-day school week

Published Feb. 10, 2012

DADE CITY — Elizabeth Beagle came to Pasco Middle School on Thursday evening with one thought in mind: Her opposition to a four-day school week.

"I'm against it," said Beagle, who has children in Zephyrhills High and Woodland Elementary schools. "I have a junior in AP classes. She does virtual school, she's in athletics. Her day is long enough."

A forum on the subject drew about 70 residents, most of whom shared their reservations with the idea of having children attend school for fewer, longer days. The concept is in play because School Board member Steve Luikart pressed for a task force to explore it as a way to cut expenses as the district's revenue shrinks.

District finance officials have projected a loss of $22 million in state funding for 2012-13, not including $7 million of added costs to meet class size plus a fine of at least $1 million for failing to meet class size requirements this year.

"Please keep in mind it's only one option," Luikart told the audience as he opened the 90-minute forum.

Another possibility could be to cut 465 noninstructional positions and move on, he said. "That's not acceptable. … We have to look at every dime and how we use it."

One by one, speakers rose to offer their views.

Carlos Saenz of Land O'Lakes, whose child attends Oakstead Elementary, said the School Board would do better to explore privatization of nonessential, noninstructional services to effect real savings, rather than tinker around the edges with a four-day plan.

Debbie Smith, a grandmother and a Pasco High food services manager, questioned what would happen to the growing number of poor students who rely on schools for their daily meals if the schools closed an additional day each week. Kim Cicanese, whose daughter attends Pasco Middle, worried about leaving children at home unattended.

"In middle school they're forming a lot of peer pressure," Cicanese said. "If we are a parent that has to go to work … we're encouraging computer use that might not be there. Here comes TV time, here comes unmonitored activity at home. It's not 1942. They can't just go out and play, and in the real world they're not going to sit and read a book."

"Having sex! That's the bottom line," one woman shouted from the back of the room.

To each of these comments, Luikart gave a similar response: Look for more details in the final report that goes to the School Board in March.

"I'm not going to sit here and give you that information right now," he told people who asked about the possibility of increased juvenile delinquency. "That's just a piece of it."

That frustrated people who came to have a conversation.

"I don't want to read the final report," shouted Keith Poot, whose grandson attends Centennial Middle. "This is not good for the kids. … I don't want this program."

Jason Green, who has children in elementary, middle and high school in Dade City, complained that it seemed the crowd was not able to comment in an informed manner.

"A four-day school week may be good. But I don't have any information on that," Green told Luikart during the session. "We're being asked to make a decision on nothing."

Luikart later explained that he didn't come to the session to give people information, but rather to collect input.

"I understand some of the their frustration. Believe me," he said. "But we're gathering information. … If we don't have these forums and then the board makes a decision, these people can say, 'We didn't have a chance to give any input.' "

Not all of the feedback was negative. At least a couple of speakers urged the others to keep an open mind moving forward. They also suggested that children's time away from school is not the school district's problem.

"Folks here are wondering, 'Who's going to take care of my child?' " said Jonathan Samelton, who has children at Cox Elementary and Pasco High. "It's not the school's responsibility to take care of your kids."

The task force plans two more forums next week. The comments and questions will become part of the larger report, along with the task force members' collected work and responses to a survey the district conducted.

Initial survey results indicate, among other things, that a third of families would transfer their children out of a school with a four-day calendar, and that more than half believed that a four-day week would negatively affect the quality of their children's academic experience.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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