Four-day school week voted down

Brian Larsen

Cook County school board members voted 4-1 on Wednesday, June 16 to reject the four-day school week proposed by Superintendent Beth Schwarz and the academic committee that helped draft the resolution.

“I am very comfortable if the board doesn’t agree with this,” said Schwarz. “Still, I am recommending the four-day school week because I continue to believe it is the most effective and quickest way to improve academic performance.”

Schwarz noted the academic committee, which is made up of teachers, educators and parents, “spent a great deal of time on this,” and believed their work shouldn’t be easily dismissed.

One of the factors initially considered when School District 166 began looking at reducing school days was the savings (between $90,000 to $130,000) the district would see. These savings would be accomplished through reduced transportation, reduced fuel to heat the school, and employee wages cut by going to a four-day week.

Despite the savings to the district, Schwarz reiterated that the main reason to go to a four-day week was, “because it will be better,” academically for students and better for staff who would have more time for staff development under this new plan.

But a lot of people were not convinced, and they voiced their concerns to board members. Some parents called to say that they liked the concept of a four-day school week, but Schwarz noted, “Those people don’t attend or stay very long at meetings because they are already on board with the idea.”

Thus, leaving the people opposed to the four-day school week concept to speak.

The vote followed a concerned citizen meeting held the night before at the senior citizen center in Grand Marais. Schwarz, Board Members Mary Sanders and Leonard Sobanja attended this 3 1/2-hour meeting and heard an earful from angry parents who felt they either had been left out of the process or ignored completely.

“It’s been a fake process,” said Michael O’Phalen, who along with his wife Maureen attended the Tuesday night forum.

“If the board votes for this, pull your kids out of school. Let the teachers stand in empty classrooms. Don’t listen to me. Just act. Pull your kids out and see if they get the message,” Michael O’Phalen said at that meeting.

Based on what they had heard at that meeting, and based on what they said they were hearing in the community, the school board voted against the resolution.

Voting no were William Huggins, Eric Kemp, Leonard Sobanja, and Mary Sanders.

Rod Wannebo argued that the district needed to change the status quo to see an improvement in education. “I favor the four-day school week. Staff development is important and this will help with that. Change is important. Sometimes you have to change what you are doing to get what you want. I don’t think kids will be hurt by this. This will help staff track kids and figure out why they aren’t doing well and what to do about it. I am afraid if we don’t do this now we will be stalling, and that will hurt the kids.”

Sanders and Sobanja said they had run into “lots of objection to this change.” Sobanja said his constituents were overwhelmingly against the fourday school week. “We need to listen to these people. They are telling me they don’t trust the board to listen to their concerns. We are going to go out and try to pass an operating referendum and we need people to believe that we listen to them. Theyneed to know that we can be trusted and right now they say they don’t trust us.”

Huggins said he understood both sides of the issue. “Beth thinks we’re dragging our heels. But I am hearing that we do not have a community that wants to do this right now. I think we should get the community and staff involved and educate them. Then, if they still don’t want to do it, then, no, I am not in favor of it. But if we delay for a year or two years and get parents and teachers involved in the process, then maybe we could pass it,” said Huggins.

Kemp read a prepared statement. He said, “The stated goal seems to be: improved academic achievement under a four day schedule.

“We could make great strides toward this goal if we had the proper support—board, teachers, parents, community. We don’t have that support.

“The four-day input process was not an input process. It was not a dialog and informational session as it was intended to be. It was a persuasive process in which the superintendent stated the case of the “district” in an attempt to win public backing for this change. Clearly, full support for four day is not the district’s stance and so the superintendent and the school board have lost some credibility through this approach.

“Further credibility is lost when we say we can look at so many programs and enrichment activities and possible Friday events with such small amount of monetary savings. Money that, some have argued with much effect, is not savings at all but money the district, which is deficit spending, must put to the most effective uses.

“Credibility is lost when we say trust in the incomplete and anecdotal evidence offered from the very small sampling of districts that have gone to four day schedules.”

Kemp noted that teachers refused to vote on the four-day school week. “The union has taken an interesting approach in their non-vote on this issue. Instead of challenging the board with a ‘no to 4 day week at this time’ vote, they have chosen to put the ball in our court. Theyhave chosen to trust the board with their future. Will we rise to the occasion?” he asked.

As for Schwarz, she said that providing the best education for kids in I.S.D. 166 is her mission.

“I have a lot of faith in Beth. She is committed to education. She will make whatever plan we vote on work,” said Kemp.

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