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Mohawk board OKs study of 4-day week

BUCKLAND — The Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee gave Superintendent Michael Buoniconti the green light Wednesday night to further research a four-day school week initiative, which could provide transportation and operational savings in the future.

“I will come back to the next (School Committee) meetings with my findings,” Buoniconti said. He stressed that, at this stage, he is only researching the idea. When asked if he has heard any concerns about how a four-day school week would affect working parents, Buoniconti replied, “I’ve acknowledged these issues and concerns.” He said that, as Mohawk explores the option, “these people will be at the table. I want this to be a collaborative process.”

The proposal to explore a four-day school week comes at a time when the eight-town school district is projecting soaring cost increases and reduced enrollment.

In a recent budget subcommittee meeting, Buoniconti told board members that first district budget for next year discussed by administrators would have cost about $500,000 more than this year’s $17.3 million operating budget. Administrators have pared down about $400,000 and are looking to shave off another $100,000 without cutting student programs. Buoniconti is hoping to keep district assessments to an overall 3.4 percent increase.

School Committee Chairman Robert Aeschback pointed out that the 250-square-mile Mohawk Trail Regional School District is facing a $200,000 cost hike for school transportation next year — about a 25 percent increase — and this year faced unanticipated special education increases.

Although Mohawk’s student enrollment has been decreasing, Aeschback said the district is hamstrung in regard to closing any school buildings, or consolidating classrooms, by its eight-town regional agreement, which requires approval in each of the eight towns at annual town meetings, before such a change is possible.

“We don’t have any rabbits to pull out of the hat,” said Aeschback. “Most of our towns are already paying 55 percent of their budgets for education.”

The Mohawk School Committee will get its first budget presentation at a Jan. 29 meeting, and the public hearing on Mohawk’s budget proposal is scheduled for Feb. 12.

In handouts given to the School Committee Wednesday, one U.S. News & World Report article reported that a Garfield, Colo., school district saw a $480,000 savings after it moved to a four-day school week last year.

“That predominantly comes on the backs of our classified staff — our bus drivers, our nutrition services workers, our secretaries, our paraprofessionals,” said Theresa Hamilton, director of district wide services. That school district’s reading and writing scores increased at the high school level, but school officials felt one year wasn’t long enough to determine whether the change had any effect on academic achievement.

In Idaho’s Hansen School District, the school board chairman said it’s hard to say whether education is better with the four-day week. That district has had the four-day week since 2010.

The Chattooga County School District in Georgia reported annual savings of $800,000 after switching to a four-day school week in 2010, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Another handout given to the school board, called “The Advantages of a Four Day School Week,” by Katherine Bradley of Demand Media, cites other advantages to the four-day school week, beyond the savings in utilities and school bus transportation: better teacher and student morale, reduced discipline referrals, improved attendance and academic improvement.

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