By RACHEL EMERSON, Student Reporter
Oklahoma schools are being forced to get creative with budget cuts coming from every direction last year. One solution: four-day weeks
Although the solution was only a way of making up for budget cuts, many school districts that had switched to shorter weeks at the beginning of this school year, are noticing the benefits the decision have on their communities.
There are currently 97 Oklahoma public school districts that have made the switch to shorter weeks. With a total of 515 public school districts, that means that about one-fifth of Oklahoma school districts have switched to four-day weeks.
However, state legislatures don’t stand by this decision.
Gov. Mary Fallin, in her State of the State address on Feb. 6, said she wants schools to return back to a five-day school week.
“A thriving, prosperous economy must have a skilled, educated workforce,” said Fallin. “That starts with good teachers in the classrooms providing our children a quality education FIVE days a week.”
Fallin said she had recently spoke with a national site selection committee in regards to getting new businesses to come to Oklahoma. She said they asked her how they were supposed to persuade businesses to come to Oklahoma communities when some of our schools only have four days a week. This, among many concerns, leads us to ask the question, is it worth it?
At this point, there isn’t enough data to really know for sure, because it’s only been a half a year; therefore, many Oklahomans aren’t sure what to think about these shorter weeks yet.
Ashley Brown, a resident of Enid, said she has mixed feelings about it, but that one of her concerns is how they make up for the missed time.
“I think that if they extend the school year to make up for the day a week the kids are losing, then it’s fine, but to cut the day out all together and not make it up means that many hours and days of school that kids miss out on that education and help they could be getting from that day,” said Brown.
Another Enid resident, and a parent of Enid Public School students, Nancy Smith, said she’s all for the shorter week as long as the kids are still learning what is needed. She is worried about one disadvantage being that working parents with younger students will have to find a child care plan for the missed day.
There are some legitimate concerns about school districts switching to shorter weeks but one school district appears to have had success with the switch to a shorter week.
In the beginning of this fiscal year, the Waukomis public school system in Waukomis, Oklahoma, initiated a four-day school week. Although only a half-year comparison, some advantages of the switch are noticeable, according to Shawn Tennyson, Superintendent of Waukomis public schools.
As far as the schools budget goes, Tennyson said “The general fund with salaries and the same re-occurring bills, compared with last year to this year, for July – January has saved $70,441.43.”
Under the same parameters, Tennyson said the building fund has saved approximately $13,260, and the cafeteria fund has saved approximately $37,744. The total savings is equal to $121,444.20 so far, a number that is subject to change before the end of the year.
The effect of test results is unknown at this point, because testing is at the end of this school year, but Tennyson said he has spoken with teachers to get feedback from them and they think they’re on the right track.
“They [the teachers] feel they are where they need to be in the classroom and in their materials to be successful on state testing, and in the teaching of the state curriculum standards,” said Tennyson.
The school days currently run from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., which is 45 minutes longer than last year’s school days running from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. five days a week.
According to Tennyson, having Friday cut out of the normal school week allows for more flexibility in making up any missed days on the calendar. If school were cancelled for any reason at all, the missed day could easily be made up on any Friday.
Another advantage is that fewer classes are missed by students who are involved in extra curricular activities. Tennyson said a lot of sports, band contest, academic meets and AG programs have events scheduled on Fridays.
Waukomis is a small school so all of the students are involved in one or more activities, which means that a large percentage of the student body misses anytime there’s an event.
There are also less absences during the rest of the week caused by doctor’s appointments, because students and teachers can schedule those for Friday.
Tennyson said having Friday’s available also opens up the opportunity for teachers to collaborate and prepare lessons.
“Our teachers come in for an hour or two on Fridays to work together and team build,” said Tennyson.
The draw for teachers has raised as well.
“We cannot offer pay incentives and we do not pay above the state minimum, so this has been one way we can compete with schools around us to entice teachers to come to us,” said Tennyson.
Tennyson said the extra time also allows for longer practice on Fridays for activities, more family time for both students and teachers and raises the spirits of students and teachers.
Waukomis’ school board approved the continuance of the four-day calendar for next year.
“This approval is due to the uncertainty of the state economy,” said Tennyson. “With over an $800 million state deficit and no clear cut plan of how to overcome it or how to make it stop growing, we have to assume the worst and believe there will be no new funds coming our way and a high probability of continued cuts. We are just trying to be proactive for our community, school and students.”