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Mohawk supt. eyes 4-day school week

BUCKLAND — Would a four-day school week save money for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District without compromising education?

Tonight, school Superintendent Michael Buoniconti will ask the Mohawk School Committee to let him explore that option, which he thinks might possibly save the district transportation and utility costs — and even improve education.

“We’re heavy into preparation for next year’s budget proposal, and we’re looking at innovative ways for financial sustainability,” Buoniconti said. “About 300 districts across the nation, especially in rural areas, have moved to four-day weeks. I’ll be asking (the school committee) for authorization to explore the options for Mohawk.”

According to Buoniconti, districts that went to four-day school weeks saved on transportation and utility costs, but one of the unexpected savings was that overall staff attendance went up — reducing costs for substitute staff.

Although students would come to school four days a week, staff would have professional development on one of the days when no students are at school. In a two-week period, students would go to school for eight days while school staff would go for nine.

“Teaching staff would be working on that fifth (weekday) every other week, on professional development,” he said. “They would have a three-day weekend every other week. The feedback on education is that staff morale did go up.”

Buoniconti said students would still have to meet the state’s yearly class time requirement, which is 990 hours of academic time for secondary education students and 900 hours for elementary pupils. To make up that time within a four-day week, students would be in school about 90 minutes a day longer, said Buoniconti. Also, Massachusetts requires students to meet its 180-school day requirement. He said the district might require special legislation to be able to comply with the time requirement in less than 180 days.

“There’s a lot of pieces to look at, but I think it’s interesting enough to take a look,” Buoniconti said. “If the School Committee gives the go-ahead, I’d want to be mindful of young families. It’s possible we’d want to set up day-care for families with young children on that fifth day.”

If the idea gains traction, possible implementation wouldn’t be until the fall of 2015, he said.

In an article posted this September by the McClatchy-Tribune, the superintendent of the Lathrop school district in Missouri reported that the district’s ACT (American College Testing) scores are the best they’ve been in 10 years, since the school went to a four-day week in 2010.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 21 states have school districts operating on four-day school weeks, mostly in small, rural districts. According to this group, four-day school weeks were started as early as in the 1930s, and became more common during the energy crisis of the 1970s.

A CBS news story about the Peach County school district in Georgia, reported that the 4,000-student district went to a four-day week in 2010, to help fill a $1 million budget shortfall. Besides saving $400,000 annually, test scores went up and so did student attendance. Also, spending on substitute teachers dropped by one-third.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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