Missouri district finds success with four-day weeks

HARRISBURG, Mo. (AP) — The Harrisburg School District has found its four-day schedule to its liking seven years in.

The schedule also gets favorable reviews from communities, according to school superintendents in Harrisburg and other Central Missouri districts that are trying the concept.

Harrisburg — with enrollment last year of 552 students — went to the four-day schedule in the 2011-12 school year after a year of studying it, said Superintendent Steve Combs. The Harrisburg school day is longer than at schools where children attend five days a week — it goes from 8 a.m. to 3:42 p.m.

“It was kind of a pinch economically,” he said of the situation with the school district then. “We made a lot of cuts to staff.”

But the four-day schedule saves the district $75,000 a year out of a total budget of a little more than $5 million. The savings might seem small, but for public school leaders, even small savings can be important.

“We save one day on buses and transportation,” Combs told The Columbia Daily Tribune . The district also saves on utilities and hourly support staff who don’t report to work on Mondays, but transportation is where the district has seen the most benefit.

The school week runs Tuesday through Friday. Some Mondays are set aside for full days of professional development and training for teachers, Combs said. Parent-teacher conferences also are scheduled on Mondays. Most state and federal holidays also are on Mondays.

Combs said annual surveys always show support from parents surpassing 90 percent.

“It gives them flexibility,” he said.

Harrisburg parent Cindy DiStefano has a son who is a junior in high school and another son who graduated from Harrisburg a few years ago.

“It’s worked out well for us,” DiStefano said. She said she was able to stay home with her sons on Mondays, where working parents usually have to find daycare for their children.

She said her sons’ education didn’t suffer because of the schedule.

“They needed to do it because of finances,” DiStefano said of the district. She said teachers are able to get training on Mondays. Mondays also are used as make-up days if there are snow days.

Harrisburg also gained an unforeseen benefit from the switch to a four-day schedule — in teacher retention and recruitment. Some teachers see the four-day week as an additional benefit and it helps Harrisburg compete with Columbia Public Schools, because Harrisburg can’t compete with CPS on teacher salaries. Combs said teacher salaries start around $33,000 in Harrisburg. The starting teacher salary in CPS is $35,500.

Combs said the district received more teacher applications when it first switched to the schedule, but the number of applications has declined in recent years.

There doesn’t seem to be any interest in Harrisburg in returning to a five-day schedule, from Combs’ point of view.

“We discuss it every year” at school board meetings when calendars are established, he said.

This is the third year for the four-day schedule in the Community R-6 School District in Audrain County. The district has about 300 students. It wasn’t financial savings that prompted the switch, Superintendent Cheryl Mack said.

“For us, we are a small district with no business to speak of,” she said. “Recruiting and retaining teachers was our primary focus.”

She said it has worked. A four-day schedule is appealing to teachers.

“The majority of our turnover has been retirements,” Mack said. “What we’re extremely pleased with is the number of applications.”

She said those are double and sometimes triple the number of applications the district received when it was on the five-day schedule.

The Community School District also has a Tuesday-Friday schedule. One Monday a month is set aside for teacher professional development.

“For us, that really made sense because so many holidays are on Mondays,” Mack said.

She said people in the district already were familiar with a four-day schedule because the Montgomery County School District in Montgomery City had already made the switch. Initial surveys before the switch were 76 percent favorable, but follow-up surveys place the favorability of the schedule near 90 percent, Mack said.

“We feel like it is a good concept for our area in particular,” Mack said.

She said district officials monitor students’ academic success. A decline would be the only reason to consider returning to a five-day schedule, she said.

The Wellsville-Middletown School District in Montgomery County also went to the Tuesday-Friday schedule in 2015-16, Superintendent Pete Nasir said. The change was for financial reasons, he said.

“Our school district was drowning in red ink four or five years ago,” Nasir said. He said staff was cut by 25 percent and the district still was spending more than it was taking in. Wellsville-Middletown is a rural district with fewer than 350 students.

“We have turned our finances around,” he said, thanks in part to a successful vote on an operating levy increase.

Nasir said the four-day schedule saves the district about $50,000 a year in transportation and hourly support staff salaries.

“It has helped with staff retention,” he said.

Surveys the district has taken show greater than 90 percent support for the schedule.

Nasir said there have been a few dips in Missouri Assessment Program scores, but he thinks that is an anomaly.

“The only way our community would want us to go back is if we were suffering academically,” Nasir said. “I think we’ll stay four-day.”

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