Shorter school weeks possible

Faced with declining enrollment and cuts in funding, a small Minnesota school system this year did the only thing it thought it could do: Change to a four-day school week.

That could become easier for Georgia school systems to do. Two lawmakers have filed separate pieces of legislation that would give school systems the ability to operate under a four-day week.

Minnesota's MACCRAY school system had cut $1.1 million out of its budget over the past two years, leaving it with $7 million or $8 million, said Gary Sims, the junior high and high school principal.

"We're broke," he said, so to avoid eliminating electives and losing students to neighboring school systems, it switched to a four-day week.

He projected that would save $85,000 a year but believed it will likely be closer to $100,000. The savings will come from transportation costs, substitute teachers and utilities.

The school day has been extended by 64 minutes, so the total amount of instructional time is unchanged, Mr. Sims said.

In April, Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden brought up the idea of a four-day week, saying the school system should explore all avenues to offset rising fuel costs. Fuel costs have dropped significantly since then, but the financial outlook remains bleak.

State Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, said school officials in his north Georgia district approached him seeking flexibility and ways to ease the strain on their budgets.

"We really want to provide as much flexibility as possible at the local level, especially during these economic times," he said.

The focus should be on instructional time rather than on the required 180 days, he said.

Rep. Mark Williams, R-Jesup, has introduced similar legislation.

"If they choose to go to a four-day week, as other states, they would have that right," Mr. Williams said. School systems currently must apply for a waiver to do this, he said.

Mr. Sims said his Minnesota school system didn't have a problem convincing parents the change was the right move, and there was very little grumbling about what to do with children on the extra day off.

"Basically, I asked them one question," he said. "What do you do during June, July and August?"

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.