BROOKSVILLE — Parents will not be faced with finding child care on Fridays after Hernando County School Board members gave a unanimous thumbs down to a proposal to adopt a four-day week as a way to save money.
“I see this going over with parents like a ton of bricks,” said Gus Guadagnino, summing up the feelings of the entire board and administrators who researched the idea as a way for the cash-strapped district to cut costs. School Board members cannot take votes during workshops but can seek consensus on whether to move issues forward for votes.
Board members asked administrators in August to gather information about a four-day week after district superintendent John Stratton gave them a packet compiled by a committee exploring the idea.
That committee found several positives about the four-day structure: its potential as a teacher recruitment incentive; the possibility of more flexible training time; and savings of up to 5 percent by some districts. If approved, Stratton said the district would have to handle such an upheaval carefully, with an ear toward students, staff and parents.
At a workshop on Tuesday, administrators presented their findings. Switching to a four-day week would require 7.5-hour school days to cover all the legislative requirements, such as 450 minutes of reading each week. That would include only physical education and no special classes such as art or music. The day would have to be even longer to fit those in.
Transportation also would be a problem, with one school — Eastside Elementary — requiring students to be dropped off later than the current 5:43 p.m.
The longer day also would affect sports, with later dismissals leaving little time to get athletes to away games. For example, a student at Fox Chapel Middle School needs 25 to 30 minutes to get to a game at Parrott Middle School. For high school teams, which travel outside the county, the change would force athletes to miss classes because buses would be tied up longer during the afternoon and have to transport athletes earlier in the day.
Other cons included more instructional hours lost when students are absent, as well as the issue most critical to parents: child care. One advantage cited was an increased opportunity for staff development on Fridays. However with two training days and half days “we do have quite a bit of professional development hours for teachers now,” the report said.
“We can’t find a compelling reason to look into moving forward,” Stratton said.
Assistant superintendent Gina Michalicka, who oversaw the research, said the team consulted educators in Colorado, where some districts shortened the week to four days. She said the rural environment, coupled with the flexibility it afforded school ski teams, made it an attractive option there.
Reports have shown that four-day school weeks typically are successful in cutting costs. That seems to be of paramount importance to the School Board, which also has explored a 2020 ballot vote on a property tax increase to help fund the district. Notes from the district committee suggest a four-day week as an alternative if the tax increase doesn’t pass: “This (amongst other things) might be the best way to survive if millage not approved.”
It’s less clear how four-day school weeks affect students, especially their lives outside the classroom. There has been little academic research published on the topic.
A 2017 study didn’t find clear connections between four-day weeks and academic performance, food insecurity or juvenile crime, but other studies suggest that four-day schedules correlate to both better academic performance and increases in crime. In one 2018 study of teachers in rural school districts with four-day weeks, teachers reported higher morale and stronger classroom performance.
“This doesn’t provide us the edge we would like to see our kids have in the coming years,” Board chairwoman Susan Duval said.