WHEATLAND – The big topic of debate right now is the possibility of Platte School District No. 1 (PCSD#1) moving to a four-day school week as early as fall 2020.
On Monday, Jan. 20 at the school board of trustees meeting held at the high school auditorium, Jon Abrams of Laramie County School District No. 2 held a presentation of what their four-day school week looks like. They adopted the change in 2015 and they have about 1050 students enrolled in schools in Pine Bluffs, Carpenter and Burns. They recently decided to close the small school located in Albin. Their multiple school system, enrollment and challenges are very similar to Platte County.
The details of a shortened week
There are several different four-day week school models to choose from, the PCSD#1 has not dictated which one they will adopt. Abrams was there to just talk about the one they have adopted. First of all, the teachers still work five days. The students are required to attend school Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3:30. On Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. is student enrichment time. Students may come for help on their regular school-work or attend a special seminar about art or some other topic of interest. Programs are scheduled by the school and many times bring in outside presenters. The teachers work until 1 p.m. on Friday and use that time to plan their lessons, re-group and recharge for the next week. They are encouraged to schedule doctor or personal appointments on that day so a substitute teacher is not necessary.
The advantages of the four-day week
By not having Friday classes they saved $75,000 on substitute teachers and $50,000 on transportation costs in the first year, in addition, students who play sports didn’t miss any class time for Friday games/meets. Abrams said the increasing student/teacher contact time was the goal in going to a four-day week. That with all the absences from student athletes and teachers going to meetings and appointments, valuable interaction time was being lost. By everything not academic based being scheduled on Fridays, more time was spent in the classroom. In the beginning, they had hoped to not cut paras (teacher aides in the classrooms) hours, but that proved to be unworkable and in the following years they had about a 200 hour pay cut. According to the state testing scores on the Wyoming State Education website, scores from the Laramie County District No. 2 went from 48 percent of students testing at grade level or above with the regular five-day school week and when they went to the four-day school week that score raised to 54 percent. In the two following school years that score has dropped a couple points but stayed above 50 percent.
Long-time West Elementary teacher Cindy Amundson spoke in favor of the shortened week.
“The day of planning would help teachers plan effectively for class and to complete the specific data that has to be presented to the state,” Amundson said. “It doesn’t make sense not to try it, we’ve been talking about it for two years.”
She went on to explain how the revised week would have helped her own children who missed classes on Fridays for sports and activities and it was difficult to make up, but voiced the importance of kids being involved in extra-curriculars for future success. “It’s hard for teachers to teach with kids missing and to give them (the absent students) the same level of instruction.”
Other teachers in the audience extolled the importance of having Fridays for professional development and planning. Stating that teachers teach more effectively and are more engaged if they are not burned-out.
The disadvantages of the shortened week
The largest complaint according to Abrams was, and still is, daycare. Parents are upset at having to arrange and pay for daycare on Fridays. The other challenge is not enough time for labs for science classes. There are eight classes with 48-minute classes. As of now, chemistry students are required to come in on Friday in order to complete the labs. Behavior problems have also increased.
“Kids who are not in a great home environment now spend three days at home instead of two. So their behavior is worse. Some of your teachers in Burns have said it’s an issue,” said board trustee Travis Lockman. “Sending kids to a home that’s not the best, that bugs me.”
Along these lines of concern are the kids who only get a balanced meal at school. Yes, there are food pantries and programs available, but a cooked meal is a lot different than a can of beans. One woman in attendance said it’s not the school’s problem to care for these children. It’s up to the parents.
Why is this being discussed?
“What is the real reason we’re looking at this? As a concerned parent looking for what’s best for our kids and our teachers is this for their benefit or just to save money?” asked Amy Windmeier. “We have a fabulous staff, but Wyoming is in a budget crisis. If this helps with teacher retention I’m all for it, but I want to see the numbers and the budget.”
The school district is required to cut the current budget over one million due to overspending, rising health insurance, transportation costs and legal bills. There were also comments of mismanagement of funds by previous boards. The largest deficit came from the State putting a cap on special education funding. The subject of closing the schools in Chugwater and Glendo was raised as a solution.
“How can you justify $70,000 cost for each student in Glendo and Chugwater?” asked Marty Shepard. “You have to really look at that option.”
“A lot of Chugwater students live in Laramie County and if that school would close, we would lose that money for them from the state,” explained business manager Charlie Cauffman. “The State pays for one teacher for every seven students in small schools.”
When asked how many students are necessary for the break-even point, the number was 69. Currently, enrollment at both schools is in the 40s. He went on to explain that while moving the 7th through 12th grades to Wheatland might be feasible, the bussing of elementary-aged students that far would not be a good solution.
Another idea was suggested that teachers could be asked to contribute to their health insurance benefits. As of now, 100 percent is payed for by the district.
“Wasn’t West Elementary built to combine the grades kindergarten through fifth grade? Why haven’t we done that?” asked Wheatland High School teacher Matt Hazen.”
The board explained they have been working on accomplishing that goal, but need approval from the State to move forward.
Our district also has an abnormally large number of principals because of all the different buildings and towns involved. The district currently has seven principals spread out over a little over one thousand students. That ratio is much larger in the bigger cities in Wyoming. That’s a lot of administrative salaries.
At the end of the evening, board trustee chairman Greg Meyer asked for a show of hands of those present of whether they were for or against the move. The response was an overwhelming, “yes,” to the four-day week.
The district is currently accepting comments and opinions. There are comment forms available at the district office at 1350 Oak Street in Wheatland and on Facebook on the Platte County School District page. So far they have received over 300 responses. The change may happen as soon as fall 2020.
“I love that we are getting feedback,” explained superintendent Steve Miller. “That was the whole point of the process.”