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Budget cuts move Arizona students to four-day weeks (+ Infographic)

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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Elfrida Third Graders

Forty-three Arizona school districts have moved from the traditional five-day school week to a four-day week in an effort to cut costs  as state support for public education has decreased in the past several years. Today, Arizona districts make up one-third of all the four-day week districts in the nation.

Some critics of the shortened school week say it passes costs on to parents in the form of increased childcare costs or the need to reduce hours at work.

Budget cuts move Arizona students to four-day weeks (+ Infographic) 3rd-gradeElfredaHP

Third graders at Elfrida Elementary School District in their classroom. Photo courtesy Elfrida Elementary School District

“Moving to a four-day week is a decision that should not be taken lightly by any school district,” said Dr. George Dean, superintendent of Salome Elementary School District  about 60 miles west of Wickenburg in La Paz County, which went to a four-day week in the 2012-13 school year.

In Arizona, 41 mostly small, rural districts were on a four-day school week this school year. Next year, Apache Junction and Coolidge Unified will join them in an effort to cut costs, while Peoria Unified decided against it in early April and approved a plan at their board meeting last week to reduce expenses in other ways.

As more schools consider making the move, there are several key things to consider, say Arizona school leaders who have made the switch.

“The challenges of moving to a four-day schedule is ensuring that the entire community – parents, teachers and students are involved in the decision-making process,” said Victoria Brand, superintendent of Elfrida Elementary School District in Cochise County, which went to a four-day week in more than five years ago. “If done well your whole community can embrace the change.”

Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

“The challenges of moving to a four-day schedule is ensuring that the entire community – parents, teachers and students are involved in the decision-making process,” said Victoria Brand, superintendent of Elfrida Elementary School District in Cochise County, which went to a four-day week in more than five years ago. “If done well your whole community can embrace the change.”

Camp Verde Unified School District’s task force committee did research on the four-day school week for two years before recommending it for implementation, said Dr. Amber Marchant-Lee, superintendent of the Yavapai County district that serves 1,518 students.

“Initially, we considered the possibility of the four day week for financial reasons,” Marchant-Lee said. “After having studied other districts, the common denominator appeared to be that staff and student morale improved on a four-day week.  This became an important factor in our teacher recruiting and retention efforts.  In addition, it was important for the district to let the community know that we were dedicated to making improvements to our educational system.”

Nationally, 120 school districts in 21 states have a four-day school week, and usually these are small, rural districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  The shortened week first began in the 1930s, then became more common during the energy crisis of the 1970s.

While the week is shorter, each school day is between 60 to 90 minutes longer to provide students the same amount of instructional hours. After-school activities end later. Most schools choose Fridays off, but some choose Mondays when most federal holidays are, according to a report “The Four-Day School Week: Nine Years Later” in the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy.

“Adjusting to 10-hour days is a challenge every fall until we get used to the length of day,” Brand said.

While educators were worried that kindergarteners would not be up to the longer day, they are doing fine, Brand said.

“We do have a 20-minute nap after lunch in the fall,” Brand said.

Estimated cost savings

Budget cuts move Arizona students to four-day weeks (+ Infographic) PossibleSavingsChart

Chart from report by Michael Griffith in Education Commission of the States.

While reducing the school week by one day might lead to an expected 20 percent reduction in operating expenses, a survey of school districts found they most often saved between 0.4 percent to 2.5 percent, because the school buildings were used on the off-day for extracurricular activities or staff development, according to Michael Griffith in Education Commission of the States.

“The one and only reason was savings of cutting a day out of the week,” Dean said. “If the governing board felt moving back to a five-day week is more beneficial to the school then we would do it.”

The four-day week has helped Elfrida Elementary, which has 130 students in a small farming community about 25 miles north of Douglas, save about one-fifth in certain areas including pay for hourly employees, utilities and janitorial supplies, Brand said.

Salaries remained the same for teachers, who are salaried employees, and continue to work the same number of hours as they did during a five-day week.

“Most of the savings comes from the loss of hourly employee time,” Brand said. “This was hard for the hourly employees as they lost income.  We are part of a very small and rural community and one of the largest employers in the area.”

The move to a shorter week provided “obvious savings” in utilities, busing fuel and staffing for Salome Elementary, which has 120 students, Dean said.

But Brand cautioned that “savings for transportation are not as much as you might think,” because the district will be claim and be funded by the state for driving less miles overall.


Districts adopting a four-day week have noted a number of advantages to the schedule along with cost savings, including increased attendance for both students and teachers, a boost in morale, and more efficient use of instructional and planning time, according to “The Four-Day School Week: Nine Years Later” report.

“I believe most parents like the four-day week along with teachers and students,” Dean said. “It has cut down on staff absences as most are able to schedule doctor/dentist/appointments on that Friday.  Student absences could also be put in that as well.”

Budget cuts move Arizona students to four-day weeks (+ Infographic) ElfredaHP3

Elfrida Elementary School District’s kindergarteners through first graders. Photo courtesy Elfrida Elementary School District

Brand said the schedule also means “no time lost for athletic which used to require students be dismissed at half day in order to travel to games,” most athletic trips are at minimum one to two hours away, because of the district’s rural location.

“Families now appreciate the extra time together as most of our families are farming and ranching families,” Brand said. “We did a survey after one year and no one wanted to go back to five days.”

“When considering moving back to a five-day week, the district would consider student outcomes, Marchant-Lee said. “First and foremost in our decision making is student success.”

Students have said the day off gives them time to get rested for a new week, and they have more time to work on homework that involve long-term projects, Brand said.

“Teachers are more rested and can use the Friday for planning which most of them do,” Brand said. “We are too small to have much in the way of prep times.”

Moving to a four day week let the district implement a professional development program for staff to participate in approximately one Friday per month, said Marchant-Lee.

“This has helped our district make a system wide efforts to improve data collection, analysis and interpretation in order to improve student achievement,” Marchant-Lee said.

The shorter week has led to less money spent on substitute teachers and fewer discipline problems in Camp Verde Unified, said Marchant-Lee.

“Overall, moving to the four-day week appears to have been a positive improvement to our school district,” Marchant-Lee said. “Our Camp Verde High School has 100 percent graduation rate and that is due to having Fridays for credit recovery programs.”

In addition, districts have found there also is less wear and tear on the buses and the HVAC systems, Brand said.

“Savings for staff transportation costs to and from work is significant – it is like giving staff a raise,” Brand said. “Half of us save 60 miles driving and fuel per day.”

A four-day week also is used as a recruiting tool when hiring staff, Brand said.  Rural and remote communities often have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers.

“New prospects find the concept exciting,” Brand said. “Current teachers would not be happy returning to the old schedule.”


Concerns related to switching to a four-day schedule include arranging childcare on the fifth day, potential negative impact for at-risk students, and decreased wages for cafeteria workers and bus drivers, according to “The Four-Day School Week: Nine Years Later” report.

“As a rural school community we did not have to contend with parents who needed extra day care as a result of the reduced school week,” Brand said. “This has not been an issue.  I know it would be in the city. This is a huge and costly issue for parents.”

Budget cuts move Arizona students to four-day weeks (+ Infographic) 8thgradesydneyElfredaHP

Some of Elfrida Elementary School District’s eighth graders.

Given that childcare is one of the most frequently voiced concerns among parents, some schools have chosen to offer programming on the fifth day or to provide childcare training for older students, who are potential babysitters for their younger siblings, according to “The Four-Day School Week: Nine Years Later.”

For example, Webster County, Kentucky’s Child Care Program provides babysitting and first aid training for secondary students, while Beauregard Parish in Louisiana offered “Fabulous Fridays,” a voluntary program in which students work with tutors or practice for standardized tests. Other districts enlisted the help of local community organizations to create and fund programming on the off day, according to the report.

Not all parents and community members support the shorter school weeks. In Peoria Unified, there was vocal opposition to it this spring.

During a March 12 Peoria Unified school board meeting, several people expressed concern about a four-day school week proposal being considered by the board to cut costs.

Monica Martinez asked the board to get data from the Peoria and Glendale Police departments on 911 calls and crime rates on early release days.

“If we cut it to a four-day school week, it’s going to take one devastating situation to ruin our district,” Martinez said. “Where’s the feedback from our City of Peoria and City of Glendale just some on research based on what events are taking place on our early-release days versus what happens versus when we have an entire day of unsupervised kids? Because believe it or not there will be unsupervised kids.”

Budget cuts move Arizona students to four-day weeks (+ Infographic) TableOfSchoolsWithAFourDayWeek1“I am against a four-day week, but that does not mean I am for cutting nurses, assistant principals, district office personnel and et cetera. My top concern is that the content will suffer,” said Julie Garitson, a parent of a child in Peoria Unified’s Sunset Hills Elementary School and a former middle and high school teacher and current community college teacher.

Garitson noted that students in the present grades 1-3 would still go to school seven hours a day.

“That’s what they do now five days a week,” Garitson said. “Cutting that down to four days a week, you’re losing out on a lot of content area just right there.”

“There was a quote (in the research) that was very troubling to me. The literature is absent of any info regarding special populations, urban or suburban districts,” Garitson said.

Christine Rosales, a special education teacher in the district, said special education students “will suffer with the four-day school week, the reason being that for every little bit we move forward, for every day we don’t work with our children we have to go backwards.”

“Four days will cost us an extra day in re-teaching before we can move forward again, so please consider that,” Rosales said. “It’s a very important population. Our numbers are growing and increasing, there are a lot of individuals with special needs and we are really doing some great stuff here. One of our parents said that earlier and I just don’t want that population to be overlooked.”

Sean Wheeler, a Peoria parent of two children in the district, pointed out that 52 percent of people who took the district’s survey on the four-day school week were against a four-day school week, and 39 percent said they might move their students out of the district.

“I didn’t realize that Peoria was in such a dire strait until about a week ago. I hope you can find another alternative. I don’t want to see schools shut down and I would love to see the teachers get a pay increase,” said Trenton Rizza, parent of two students in the district. “The only thing that I can think of that might work is that the next time voters vote on a bond or a tax.”

Other things to consider

Educators in districts considering moving to four-day school week need to be aware of adjustments they’ll need to make to classroom time management and curriculum, Brand and Marchant-Lee said.

“Teachers and students need to get five days worth of learning into four days,” Brand said. “Dedicated instructional time must be expanded for each content area.  This change needs to be monitored.  Many textbooks are set up on a five-day schedule, and some teachers need support in how to efficiently make the changes.”

“There are curriculum adjustments necessary when moving from five-day to four-day schedules, that the teachers and staff need to be cognizant about as they transition to a four-day week,” said Marchant-Lee of Camp Verde Unified School District.

There is no strong evidence that the four-day week has either a positive or negative effect on student achievement, and most evidence suggests the schedule does not strongly impact student achievement, according to “The Four-Day School Week: Nine Years Later.”

“Make sure you do your research as going to a four-day week is not for all school districts,” said Dean of Salome Elementary School District. “The challenges for high schools are different than the challenges for elementary schools.”

Marchant-Lee agreed that it’s important to research if the four-day school week “is right for your community.”

“We have enjoyed a majority support of the four-day schedule,” Marchant-Lee said. “Most of our survey materials indicate 80 percent community support for the four day week.”

Parents initially expressed concerns that students might lose ground with the longer weekends, but students have not, Brand, Dean and Marchant-Lee said.

“If our students were ever not making the expected gains in learning, we would consider returning to a five-day schedule,” Brand said.