Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

School districts tweak schedules to save money

Schools are moving to four-day weeks, shortening the school year, staggering start times and making other schedule adjustments to save money.

Some altered schedules to fill budget holes for this year. Others are planning for next year but don’t know how much their budgets will be reduced as legislators face shrinking tax revenue.

Although federal stimulus funds will help, “most districts are still unaware of how much money that will mean for them,” says Mary Kusler, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators.

In Bisbee, schools Superintendent Gail Covington says she expects a 10 percent cut.

“Can we remove 13 teachers? Absolutely not,” she says. “Can we do deep salary reductions? Not if we want to attract qualified teachers and keep the teachers we have.”

As an alternative, Covington proposed – and the school board adopted – closing schools in the small town every Friday for the next two school years. The shortened school week will save $500,000 a year in costs of heating, air conditioning, maintenance, bus drivers and fuel, substitute teachers and cafeteria and custodial staff.

School days will be lengthened by one hour to make up for the lost instructional time.

All states require students to attend a minimum number of days or hours per year. Hundreds of districts are modifying schedules that meet those requirements but cost less, says Reggie Felton of the National School Boards Association. “It’s fairly widespread,” he says.

While school districts save money, the cost is transferred to parents who may have to pay for more day care, says Byron Garrett, CEO of the National Parent Teacher Association. For low-income families whose children get free or reduced-price meals at school, they must find a way to provide the food, he says.

“It will have a significant impact on the wallets and budgets of many families that are already struggling,” Garrett says.

School officials also are:

— Staggering start times. Schools in Florida’s St. Lucie County have had staggered start times for years. The district tinkered with the schedule this year, moving start times at two schools from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., says Marty Sanders, the district’s executive director of planning. The move saved $2 million by reducing the number of buses and having the remaining buses make more runs, he says.

Before- and after-school programs were expanded to help parents with child care.

— Dropping “block” scheduling. Next year, California’s Hayward Unified School District will end its three high schools’ “block” schedule, under which students take four 90-minute classes per semester, equaling eight courses per year.

The schools will adopt a more traditional schedule of six courses per year and will give students the option of taking additional courses through an extended day, Superintendent Dale Vigil says. The reduced teaching staff will save about $1 million.

— Shortening the year. The school day in Dighton, Kan., got 25 minutes longer on Feb. 4, letting the district end the year May 1 instead of May 22. Minimum class time is still met because the original schedule had more hours than required. Expected savings: $31,000, Superintendent Angela Lawrence says.

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