Lawrence school board opposed to 4-day week in the near future

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Switching to a four-day student/five-day staff school week could save the Lawrence school district money and provide more plan time for teachers, according to some staff members, but it raises equity concerns for families and students. School board members said Monday they don’t believe the district in the near future will be ready to consider the switch.

Jayci Roberson and Jessica Rohrberg, co-chairs of the district’s calendar committee, presented to the board during Monday’s meeting. They shared a report of the committee’s work on the four-day student/five-day staff week, which will not be implemented next year but may be considered for future years. 

The report suggested Mondays as the day students would not attend school, in part because of the numerous federal holidays that occur on Mondays. It would also eliminate early dismissals on Wednesdays.

Board members across the panel agreed the switch would not be viable for the Lawrence school district anytime soon.

Board President Shannon Kimball said she has concerns about students’ academic success and safety as well as community support, or the lack thereof. 

“I have concerns about the capacity of our community to provide meaningful opportunities for and safe opportunities for students on Mondays for all families that need them, or whatever day of the week,” Kimball said. “… The buy-in from your community is the thing, number one, that you have to have before you do this, and I know we’re just starting the conversation. I don’t think we’re anywhere close.”

By slightly increasing the minutes in a school day, students could still earn their required hours with a four-day week, according to the calendar committee’s work. Kimball said she would like to see the breakdown of instructional minutes with a four-day week.

During their report, Roberson and Rohrberg noted some potential challenges that could come with a four-day week, such as the ability for all families to secure needed child care and providing meals and care to students who need them on Mondays. The district would also need to take classified staff into account to ensure they still receive the hours they need.

Board member Kelly Jones shared concerns about the child care piece and said the way a four-day student/five-day staff week model would affect the district’s operations is too overwhelming. The need for continued special education services through the potential switch is especially concerning for Jones, she said.

“There’s no way that I could ever vote for this if we didn’t account for special education services five days a week,” Jones said. “I don’t know how to reconcile that based on what I know about families that are managing care. … We cannot make this decision without giving maybe several years of planning to really undertake this in a way that is thoughtful and really does do the retention impact, that really does have the student impact, that allows the community to respond.”

Rohrberg told the board the four-day student/five-day staff week was meant to be a conversation of effective staff and retention but got lumped into the budget conversation as the district worked with the Futures Planning Committee and consultants RSP & Associates to make budget cuts. This didn’t align with the calendar committee’s original plans, she said.

“I cannot tell you how much damage I feel like that’s done to the process and how much anger there’s been around that, and that was not something that we did,” Rohrberg said. “So I feel like we’re really digging out of a hole, which is very frustrating because there was a lot of thoughts and intention that went into this, and I do feel like we’ve lost a great deal of that at this point, which is very challenging.”

Kimball agreed with Rohrberg and said the committee was asked to join a timeline that “probably did not do a service to this conversation.”

Though the model will not be implemented next year, the committee suggested the board explore it for future years, especially because of the extra plan time it would give teachers.

“The best way for us to engage kids is for teachers to have the time to plan and prepare for the littles in their seats,” Rohrberg said. 

The district could potentially save approximately $2 million in its budget by switching to a four-day student/five-day staff week, based on numbers from the Futures Planning Committee meeting materials, with $700,000 estimated in savings for transportation and substitute teachers, plus $1.3 million by eliminating the need for a second plan time for middle school teachers.

Among other potential benefits of a four-day week the committee mentioned are higher student attendance, a better “work-life balance” for both students and teachers, more time for students to work jobs, volunteer or rest.

Board members indicated that they want the committee to seek community feedback before they do further planning around this change. Next steps if the calendar committee moves forward would also include continuing to engage with community partners such as Boys & Girls Club, the Lawrence Public Library, and others about activities, resources and support they could provide to students on Mondays.

Visit this link to view the committee’s presentation to the board, which includes their research from outside and inside the district.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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