By B.C. Manion
Parents who were worried about day-care issues that would result if Pasco County went to a four-day school week can rest easy – the school district is sticking to its five-day schedule.
The Pasco County School Board was considering a shorter school week as one option to help close a budget gap now estimated at $25.6 million.
After months of study and three public forums, the board made it clear at a March 20 workshop that it won’t pursue the four-day schedule.
Board member Steve Luikart chaired the 36-member task force that looked into potential cost savings and impacts from a four-day school week. He said his interest in exploring a four-day week was to see if it could help the district protect student programs and limit job cuts.
During the workshop, Luikart informed board members that the change would yield about $7 million in annual savings. Board members listened politely to Luikart’s presentation, thanked the task force for its work, asked a few questions, made a few comments and then rejected the four-day week.
No official vote was taken, but board members made it clear that the case had not been made for such a substantial shift in school operations.
School board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said she would only support a four-day school week if she were persuaded the switch would benefit students, parents, the staff and the community.
One of the biggest complaints that parents raised during public forums on the four-day week was child care problems the change would create.
“From the parental standpoint, child care, to me, was a very valid concern,” Hurley said. “You’re talking a significant increase in the amount of money that parents would pay.”
School board member Cynthia Armstrong said she was especially concerned about the impact a four-day school week would have on the most vulnerable children.
“I think about the children who I call ‘hurting,’ ” Armstrong said. Doing away with the fifth day of school would be especially difficult for children who rely on schools for meals, and for a warm building on chilly days, she said.
Board member Alison Crumbley said she would need to see “more convincing evidence” that the change would not harm student achievement. Barring that data, she said, “I’m not willing to take that risk.”
Crumbley also said that shifting to a four-day school week could pose a threat to Pasco County’s efforts to attract quality employers. Good companies won’t come if they’re concerned about the quality of the schools, she said.
As part of the report, Luikart said the task force ran across some potential cost-cutting moves the district could make – which are outlined in the report. The report identifies spending and questions costs in areas including transportation, energy and insurance.
Board member Allen Altman said he’d like the district to take a closer look at issues raised in the report.
Luikart said the task force was a neutral group, interested only in taking a look at the pros and cons, impacts and cost savings of the four-day school week.
As such, it achieved its mission, he said.