Thursday, March 10, the Thayer School Board approved a 174-day calendar for next school year, conceding schedule conflicts with West Plains' proposed 166-day calendar.
West Plains was set to approve its 2011-12 calendar at the board's Tuesday, March 15, meeting. Results were unavailable at press time, although West Plains School Superintendent Fred Czerwonka said earlier that he would recommend the 166-day calendar.
Czerwonka said the shorter calendar will save the district as much as $120,000 next year, mostly by cutting busing costs.
Thayer and Couch schools
Thayer Superintendent Dan Chappell said that, although the Thayer district could also save money on utilities, meals and transportation, he did not believe a shorter school year (and longer summer break) benefits students.
The 2011-12 calendar that Thayer set calls for 171 full days and three half days, with school starting Aug. 17 and ending on May 16, 2012.
Couch Superintendent Tom Bull said he sees a problem with the proposed West Plains' calendar, calling for a week-long spring break immediately before Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests.
"That's just not good business," Bull told the Couch School Board on Monday, March 14.
Bull said, however, that a shorter calendar would save Couch about $2,500 daily.
Bull said he spoke with neighboring Gatewood and Lonestar superintendents about a possible four-day school week, but both rejected the proposal, opting instead for longer days and a shorter calendar.
By adding three minutes to each class, Couch could cut its calendar to 165 days, Bull said.
By adding five minutes per class, equivalent to 35 minutes per day, Couch could set a 162-day calendar, saving approximately $30,000 over 12 days, he said.
"That's a teacher we can keep," Bull said of the $30,000 savings.
Bull said he is concerned, however, about students' knowledge retention over a longer summer break.
"I don't know what choice we have," Bull said, citing state funding cuts over recent years.
Bull gave the board a proposed 2011-12 calendar to review before the board's April meeting. The additional time would be added to the end of the day, he said, with final dismissal at 3:29 p.m.
While the West Plains district is not in the same conference as Alton or Thayer, the rural districts send students to West Plains for vocational-technical classes, an issue when the districts' calendars do not match.
If approved, West Plains schools will be open seven days next year that Thayer schools are not; and Thayer schools will be open for 25 days that West Plains is not.
During West Plains' monthly Coffee Talk session on Wednesday, March 9, Czerwonka and Assistant Superintendent John Mulford went over the proposed calendar. About 20 parents, two school bus drivers and several school staff members attended the one-hour meeting.
Mulford cited advantages and common concerns about four-day and shorter calendars.
The Lanthrop School District, now with a four-day school week, has reported increased attendance by students and teachers, better academic scores and fewer discipline referrals, Mulford said.
Because longer school days are a new concept, not much data is yet available, Mulford said.
West Plains' shorter calendar would eliminate student half-days for next year, which was applauded by both bus drivers and several parents at the Coffee Talk meeting. Vacation days also would be set, and not subject to change by snow days.
"Half-days are of little educational value," Mulford said.
Czerwonka said more districts across the state likely will be adjusting their calendars in the future, due to reduced state funding and increased fuel costs.
West Plains paid $4,000 more for diesel fuel for buses in March, compared to February, Czerwonka said.
A parent asked why the district would cut the school calendar to save costs, yet continue to spend a lot to bus students to sports games, which is not reimbursed by the state.
Mulford said many students would drop out of school or transfer to another district if West Plains cut its sports programs.
"Sports is the one thing that gets some kids through school," Mulford said, citing an example of one student who dropped out when banned from playing sports.
"It's an offering we want for our kids," Czerwonka said, explaining that much of the extracurricular busing cost is because West Plains was moved to the Ozarks Conference about 10 years ago, requiring up to 212-mile trips to some games.
Of the parents who spoke at the Coffee Talk session, most said they like the shorter calendar.
Alton and Koshkonong
Alton School District Superintendent Sheila Wheeler said the Alton board typically does not set its calendar until April or May, and does not mirror the West Plains calendar.
Oregon Howell School District Superintendent Robert Casteel said the Koshkonong board is set to discuss the calendar at its March 21 meeting.
Castell said he likes the West Plains calendar and will recommend that Koshkonong set a similar 166-day calendar.
"I like it even better after our meeting with West Plains last week," Casteel said.