Published Online: November 10, 2008

Arizona School Districts Considering 4-Day Weeks

More Arizona school districts could cut down their school weeks to four days as they continue to feel the state budget pinch.

The Arizona Legislature forecast a state budget shortfall as high as $1.1 billion. School district budgets are heavily dependent on state funding, and many districts already expect they will have to make cuts next year.

Cutting out a day of transportation, utilities, and food-service costs could be the solution for some. Already, both Avondale and Queen Creek municipal governments have made the switch and more than 100 schools in the state operate on a four-day week.

The Scottsdale Unified School District could save 15 to 18 percent of its costs if its 33 schools switched, said interim co-superintendent David Peterson.

He said he's not an advocate of the shortened schedule but was simply estimating cost savings.

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In 1985, the Arizona Legislature made four-day weeks possible, and many small rural districts are on that schedule.

The Arizona Department of Education mandates that students receive a certain number of instructional hours per year. The mandated hours, instead of mandated days, allow flexibility in scheduling.

Casa Grande Union High School District in Pinal County has formed an exploratory committee to investigate a four-day week. Superintendent Nancy Pifer estimated the district could save $570,000 or 3 percent of the operating budget.

But she said she's seen opposition in the community.

"I think it's really about the idea of change, because I can't find enough in the literature to say it's so wrong or so bad to do," she said. "If this were to have a negative impact on student achievement, no matter how many dollars it saved, I would not even consider it."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne opposes four-day weeks. "I think the more days the students are in school, the more they'll learn," he said.

He also pointed to the problem for parents who would need extra day care.

Should Phoenix area schools explore the idea, Horne would fight it. "Any time it comes up, I'm going to advocate against it," he said.

The Arizona School Boards Association does not have a stance on the issue. Spokeswoman Tracey Benson said the issue would have to spring up locally before the organization would consider taking a position, and it hasn't come up.

But as the economy and state budget pictures worsen, Benson said a four-day week could come under consideration in some districts.

"I could see that being a possibility just because of some of the economic stresses that everyone's going to be under," Benson said. "That might be an issue that gains some traction."

Young Elementary School District in Gila County has been using a four-day week since 1985.

Superintendent Linda Cheney said academics have not suffered, but acknowledged that "it is a long, long day for the kids."

Young teacher Teresa Anthony said in an e-mail that the shortened week is a mixed bag for everyone.

"Even the older (students) have a difficult time when they're in classes for eight hours and then go to extracurricular activities and then home for a late supper around 7 p.m., only to hit the books for several hours and get to bed late — not good for growing bodies!" she said.

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