La Grande School Board nixes four-day school week

Jan. 25—LA GRANDE — The La Grande School District's journey toward a four-day week appears to be derailed.

The La Grande School Board decided by consensus at a work session on Tuesday, Jan. 24, to keep the district's five-day school week intact and not continue exploring the possibility of moving to a four-day school week.

The school district had been studying the possibility of a switch since November when it formed a committee to investigate the pros and cons of making such a move. A community survey was conducted and a town hall was held on Jan. 10 to take public input on the idea.

The board made its unofficial decision at the recommendation of La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza and the district's four-day week committee.

Mendoza said moving to a four-day week would not be a wise decision now for a number of reasons. He said the Oregon Department of Education is discouraging school districts from switching to four-day weeks as it prepares to take steps to boost student scores on assessment tests.

"I do not believe it is prudent or responsible for us to study and potentially implement something that our state would likely come out not in support of," Mendoza said in a written statement to the four-day week committee shown in a PowerPoint presentation at the Jan. 24 work session.

Mendoza added a schedule change now is not a good idea since the La Grande School District's scores on assessment tests are not as high as he would like and the school district's enrollment is down, which is hurting its financial outlook. He noted the school district's enrollment is 200 students below what it was when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. All this makes it a far from ideal year to switch to a four-day week.

"The timing is bad," he said.

The superintendent spoke after presenting a report on the findings of the four-day week committee. It found the scores of students on reading and math assessment tests normally dip in school districts after they switch to a four-day week. Mendoza said there are some reports that indicate four-day weeks do not hurt academic achievement but that as much as 90% of the research available indicates that four-day weeks bring academic achievement down.

Danelle Lindsey, a La Grande school board member, spoke out against moving to a four-day week.

"It would not be good for our kids in any way, shape or form," she said.

Lindsey at earlier school board meetings had also said she was concerned about the child care expenses some parents would have to pay on Fridays when school would be out.

School board member Joe Justice also spoke out against the four-day week, saying he could not see any reason why it would benefit the school district other than it might help keep teachers from leaving to join school districts with four-day weeks.

"That is the only reason I can think of," he said.

Justice noted that the school district has a solid retention rate, so there does not appear to be a good reason to switch to a four-day week at this time.

Teachers are strong four-day week supporters, according to the survey the school district conducted.

The four-day week schedule options the board was considering called for the district to provide education services at schools on Fridays to help students who need to catch up on class work. A drawback would have been the cost. Mendoza said providing meals to students coming in would cost up to $86,800 a year, and providing transportation for students to and from school could be as high as $72,000. The school district would not have been reimbursed by the government for any of these expenses because Fridays would not have been an official school day.

The five-day school week model school board members expressed support for on Jan. 24 will be in place for three to five years and possibly provide faculty more days off. It would create more three-day weekends during the school year and could add one or two days of additional personal and professional leave that would allow staff more opportunities to take time off or catch up on professional responsibilities, Mendoza said.

Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or dmason@lagrandeobserver.com.