In an ever-present challenge to cut expenses, many school districts across the state have adjusted their calendars to save busing, food and utility costs by closing school earlier.
Albany School District in northwest Missouri recently became the second in the state to be open four days per week. Lathrop schools have also adopted the four-day week.
With the passage of new legislation, Missouri public schools are no longer held to the old policy of having at least 174 student days. Instead, districts must be in session at least 1,044 hours.
The Plato School Board recently unanimously approved reducing its calendar to 162 days, meeting the hours' requirement by adding eight minutes per day. Classes will be held from 8:06 a.m.-3:26 p.m. next year.
Plato School District Superintendent V. Leon Slape said the board tacked the eight minutes onto the end of the day. He reported positive comments from the community and teachers.
Slape anticipates saving $30,000 annually by closing sooner each year. The district has 640 students.
Dora School Superintendent Sherry Anstine said her board will consider next month whether to adopt a 149-day calendar with new school hours of 7:50 a.m.-3:40 p.m., adding 35 minutes per day.
Anstine said the move would save Dora, with 350 students, about $30,000 per year, or 1 percent of its $3 million budget.
"We're looking at every aspect of this," Anstine said. The change would allow more time for high school instruction and professional development for teachers, she said.
By eliminating half-days, students will miss less time for out-of-school appointments, she said, as the days off will not be changed once school begins.
Locally, many districts are watching to see which calendar the West Plains School District adopts next month. Although no longer in the same conference as West Plains, the eight schools in the South Central Association (including Alton and Thayer) will be affected by West Plains' schedule.
West Plains School District
West Plains School Board members will decide a 166-day calendar proposal on March 15, that has students starting school Aug. 18 and getting out either April 27 or May 11, depending on how many snow days are used.
The proposed calendar adds 18 minutes per day with new hours of 8:10 a.m.-3:25 p.m.
West Plains School Superintendent Fred Czerwonka said the change would save the district at least $64,000, or $8,000 per day, for a possible savings of $120,000.
The West Plains district operates 37 bus routes. That savings could be passed onto salaries, Czerwonka said.
"It's a no-brainer," Czerwonka said.
West Plains calendar builds in 10 snow days, so any inclement weather days not taken will come off the end of the school year. All other days off are set, he said.
"Parents like this because they can make plans," Czerwonka said.
Bus time would only increase by about five minutes, he said.
Oregon Howell School Superintendent Robert Casteel said the Koshkonong district has not yet set its calendar, but likely will follow West Plains because of busing issues.
Through an agreement made before Casteel became superintendent, West Plains buses pick up Junction Hill, Glenwood and Howell Valley students, and then drop them off at the West Plains Civic Center. Oregon Howell buses then relay the students to Koshkonong.
Unless Koshkonong coordinates with West Plains' schedule, those students will not have busing those eight or 18 days that West Plains is not in school.
Casteel said he can see benefits and drawbacks with the shortened calendar. The district could save money and district patrons could enjoy holiday breaks "set in stone."
"One concern, however, is the academics kids lose over the summer," Casteel said.
Unless Koshkonong adopts a shortened calendar if West Plains does, the already small district could lose students to West Plains, he said.
The Koshkonong board will decide the issue March 21.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fair Grove and Strafford school districts, both experiencing exploding enrollment near Springfield, are considering year-round schedules to prevent students from regressing academically over a long summer break.
Thayer School District
Thayer School District Superintendent Dan Chappell said he would need to realize greater savings than 1 percent of his budget in order to endorse a shorter calendar.
"If you're telling me you're going to save 1 percent, that's not good enough," Chappell said. "I'm going to try to do what's best for the kids."
Chappell also questioned whether a four-day school week could taint students' perception of employment after graduation.
"Are we pointing them in the right direction?" Chappell said. "Are they going to expect that in the work world?"
Chappell said he also disagrees with a shorter calendar, mostly because of the lost knowledge over summer at the elementary level.
"If every parent is a good teacher for their child and reads to them every night, then you'll be OK," Chappell said. "But, we have a lot of kids that don't get that."
Chappell said he does not believe 18 extra minutes of instruction daily will make up for four months out of school.
Thayer, Alton and Koshkonong districts, among many others in the area, also will be affected by West Plains calendar because their students attend vo-tech classes there.
The Thayer and Alton school boards will likely set their 2011-12 calendars at their March 10 meetings. The districts will meet with West Plains' administrators earlier that day.
The West Plains district also will have its monthly Coffee Talks with the public to discuss the issue, among other things, at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 10, in the administration building.
Missouri statutes require school districts setting a traditional 174-day calendar to have a seven-hour-per-day maximum. Districts operating less than 174 days will have an eight-hour maximum of student hours.
School districts operating on less than a 174-day calendar shall be required to revert to the 174-day calendar if they are unable to maintain certain performance standards, according to statutes.