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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

School administrators report on longer school days

Friday, November 18, 2011

With the first quarter of the school year over, Oregon County school superintendents say their 2011-12 calendars are working out fine.

Three of the county's four public schools shortened their school years by adding minutes to each day, which they say will translate into utility, transportation and payroll savings by the end of the school year. The superintendents of Alton, Couch and Koshkonong schools all report an easy transition for staff and students to the longer days.

"It's been going really well. There really haven't been any issues," Alton Superintendent Sheila Wheeler said of the district's longer days.

Alton added 21 minutes to the elementary school day and 23 at the high school, shortening the year by about 18 days. Alton students will get out for the summer on May 11, 2012, regardless of snow days.

Couch Superintendent Tom Bull and Oregon-Howell Superintendent Robert Casteel also reported success with their new schedules. Couch added 30 minutes to the day, while Koshkonong students are in class 20-25 minutes longer, depending on grade level.

"It's going fine," Casteel said. "We tacked minutes on each end of the day."

Couch students will recess for the summer on April 30 if they have no snow days, or May 14 if they use all 10 days. Koshkonong students will get out as early as May 3 with no snow days.

Casteel said Koshkonong's morning schedule was basically unchanged as students, including bussed students, arrive at school at 7:30 a.m. anyway for breakfast. Koshkonong busses head out to begin picking up riders at 6:30 a.m.

Thayer School Superintendent Dan Chappell said he is not convinced longer days and a shorter year benefit children. The district is the only one in the county that did not shorten its school year.

"You have to tell me that this is better for kids for me to consider it, and for my board to consider it," Chappell said. "I can't teach kids if I don't have them here."

Chappell said some districts did not factor in how much money they will lose in state meal reimbursements by not having school in session. Almost 70 percent of Thayer students receive free or reduced meals. Most of that cost is reimbursed by the state.

"For some kids, this is the best meal they have," Chappell said.

Forfeiting the state reimbursement is not as critical for districts, such as Lanthrop, with a smaller number of students on the free and reduced program, Chappell said.

About 30 percent of Lanthrop students, in northern Missouri, receive free or reduced meals. This is the second year the district has operated with a revised calendar by being closed on Mondays.

The Lanthrop School Board passed the issue 4-2 two years ago. Lanthrop Superintendent Chris Fine said the board had three new members at the time, who likely were elected because they supported the issue.

"It was not a landslide, by any means," Fine said.

Fine said about an equal number (15 percent) of district patrons like the four-day week as those who dislike it. The remaining 70 percent are indifferent, he said.

By switching to a Tuesday-Friday schedule, however, the district did not save as much as it anticipated in transportation costs, Fine said. The biggest savings are in reduced payroll, as secretaries, custodians and paraprofessionals all work eight hours less per week.

"They bore the brunt of the cuts, that's for sure," Fine said. "The economy is not good right now."

The Lanthrop District is projected to save $126,000 this year, about 1 percent of its annual budget. Students are in class from 8 a.m.-3:45 p.m.

Fine said enrollment at the high school is about the same, and elementary enrollment is at its highest ever. Student performance has also not been affected, he said.

Chappell said a 1-percent savings is just not enough to justify longer days and a four-month summer break, especially for elementary students who will have a harder time relearning skills in the fall.

Some Cabool students board the bus at 5:50 a.m., while Dora students will be in class just 149 days, Chappell said. Thayer is in session 171 full days and three half days.

"If the state would let me go three months on and one month off year-round, I would look at that pretty hard," Chappell said.

While Thayer is more compact, districts that bus their students in from a large area, such as Couch and Alton, could realize enough savings in transportation costs to benefit from a shorter calendar.

Wheeler said the new schedule has many positive points, with no half days except for the last day of the year, plus all holiday breaks are set, as is the final day.

"That makes it good for parents to know when to schedule vacations," Wheeler said. "I trust it is a good thing for parents, students and the school."

Thayer's elementary enrollment is up this year, while the high school is down by about 19 students.

Chappell said district patrons have been supportive of the board's decision to not alter its schedule.

Each of the district superintendents said the issue likely will be discussed by their boards again early in 2012 before the 2012-13 calendar is set.

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