Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce (left) and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen (right) participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce (left) and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen (right) participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

4-day school week committee talks purpose of potential change, possible calendar

The change could help curb costs on things like substitutes, according to district estimates

A temporary committee of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education tasked with exploring the possibility of a four-day school week on Monday considered a model calendar and discussed the “purpose” of possibly making such a change.

KPBSD Director of Secondary Education Tony Graham presented a “hypothetical” calendar to the group that described a 2025-2026 school year beginning on Aug. 18 and ending May 21. Under the model, school would not be held on Fridays, and teachers would also be operating under a four-day work week, with some Fridays designated for inservices.

School days, listed in the draft calendar, would begin at 7:45 a.m. and run through 3:45 p.m. for middle and high school students — 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. for elementary school students. Graham said those schedules would make for exactly seven hours of instruction each day — passing periods and lunch don’t count.

Graham said the calendar was designed to end the school year before Memorial Day and avoid holiday costs.

There are legal requirements in Alaska Statute for how many hours students spend in the classroom, and Graham said that were the calendar adopted the school district would remain well above those requirements. For students in kindergarten through third grade, the requirement is 740 hours, while students fourth through 12th grade require 900 hours of instruction.

Jason Tauriainen, who chairs the committee, said the idea adds “a lot of flexibility” for things like snow days, where a Friday can be put back in to make up for lost time.

KPBSD Human Resources Director Nate Crabtree described benefits to the district that could be borne of a four-day work and school week, including an “upper hand” in recruiting, freeing up buses for extracurricular travel, and significant savings on substitute teachers on Fridays alone.

So far this year, Crabtree said roughly 4,000 Friday absences among teachers have been reported for any reason. Having Fridays off would prevent the need for substitutes and allow teachers the space to schedule appointments without needing to expend leave.

Not every absence necessarily requires a sub, but Tauriainen said — based on a “conservative average” — he estimated an expense of between $500,000 and $1 million in substitute teachers for those Fridays, assuming an average cost of $180 dollars per sub per day. That is, he said, “not small savings.”

Beyond teachers, building use drops, food costs drop, usage of other consumables like cleaning supplies and toilet paper all drop, he said, without compromising education or other programs. He said that extended days could facilitate education in certain areas of the curriculum, like that connected to the Alaska Reads Act.

“It’s one of the only ways we can save money,” Tauriainen said, “without hurting what we’re doing now.”

Crabtree said they can aim to have a more concrete estimate of potential savings available at the next meeting.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, another member of the committee, questioned whether the district’s youngest students can handle the longer days, suggesting that more time be allocated for social interaction if the model were to be adopted.

Board member Tim Daugharty said he’s concerned about outcomes, specifically whether the change will result in a quantifiable improvement. He also pointed to concerns raised in regards to challenges with child care — saying it’s important for parents to have “good, safe spaces” for their children.

“Is this the best thing for families?” he asked.

The four-day work and school week, Druce said, could improve mental health for both students and staff. She said anything “feasible” that has that outcome is “worth a try.”

At the committee’s next meeting, which is planned for May but not yet dated, Tauriainen said they will look at data and begin weighing the pros and cons. He said they’ll soon need to make recommendations based on their findings. The committee is meant to dissolve and give its recommendations to the full school board in July.

A full recording of the meeting will be made available on the school board’s BoardDocs website. The draft calendar and other information about the committee can also be found there.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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