LOUISIANA – Louisiana schools will probably be forced to adopt a four-day school week, R-II Superintendent Todd Smith told a school board meeting Wednesday, Jan. 22, terming the change “inevitable.”
It will need to do so in order to compete for teachers — a mounting challenge for schools in rural areas, Smith said.
The change will have to be planned out and introduced to parents and other stakeholders — meaning its too late, in Smith’s view, to adopt the new schedule for the upcoming, 2020-2021 school year. But Smith told the board he’d be recommending it the year after that.
The cost savings associated with a four-day school are modest, Smith said: fewer substitute teachers and one less day of transportation and food services.
He told the board the move will probably be compelled by a stampede of other local schools to adopt the practice — putting the last five-day school in the area at a competitive disadvantage.
“I think its inevitable for us,” Smith said. “Otherwise, we’re going to be the last one left.”
Elsberry’s school board voted Thursday, Jan. 16 to begin a four-day week as of next school year. Van-Far voted to do so in November. Leadership at both schools cited the hunt for teachers as the driving factor behind the decision. Pike County R-III school district, which oversees Clopton schools, adopted a four-day week in 2018. Other four-day districts in the area include Community R-VI, Warren County R-III and Montgomery County R-II.
“What its really going to come down to is attracting teachers. That’s why Elsberry did it. They can’t get teachers to come up [Hwy.] 79, but they can get them to do it for a four-day week,” Smith said.
Across the state, 58 schools were on a four-day week as of January 2020, according to a report presented to the Missouri State Board of Education. It was an increase of 25 districts over the number recorded in 2019.
The possibility of a four-day week was opened up by the state legislature in 2009. Initially, it was presented as a cost-saving measure for school districts, though the state board report agreed with Smith that teacher recruitment had come to be a motivator for many districts.
Smith told the board he expected other local schools to switch over around the same time.
“We can’t be the last one, or we’ll be the last one in line when it comes to recruiting,” Smith said.
Even before the schedule is adopted, Smith said he hoped that the prospect of a four-day week could act as a “carrot” for applicants for teaching positions. He noted that the district is seeing a substantial number of retirements, meaning they’ll have to bring in a lot of new teachers to keep the school staffed up.
A sample of a four-day week schedule handed out to board members dropped Mondays and increased the school day from about seven-and-a-half to eight hours. Mondays would be used as snow days.
“Its pretty slick. Enough people have done it that they’ve worked a lot of the kinks out,” Smith said.
The change could mean inconveniences: finding transportation on the off-day for student athletes, and day care options for students as their parents work were two issues board members raised.
“I think a lot of people have done it. I think there will be [problems], but I think people will figure it out,” Board president Jenna Loveless said.
If the four-day week is adopted, Smith told the board he expects an initial jump in attendance, followed by a return to normal numbers after the excitement of the new schedule wears off.
Grant for new bus
The district has received a $20,000 grant to buy a new bus from the Environmental Protection Agency, Smith told the board.
The grant requires the district to destroy an old bus. Less the lost trade-in value of the old bus, Smith said, the district could expect to net $15,000 from the transaction toward a new bus that typically costs around $110,000.
The oldest bus in the school’s fleet is from 2002. The district generally tries to buy a new bus every year or every other year.
Bulldog card could come next school year
Smith told the board that the Bank of Louisiana had reached out about using the district’s bulldog logo on a debit card. A portion of spending on the card would be donated to support the school district. Community State Bank offers a similar program in support of Troy and Bowling Green schools.
As of Thursday, Jan. 23, Bank of Louisiana president Jim Ross said the exact terms of the card had not been set. He expected to roll out the card around the start of next school year.