Denver School District Pushes for Four-Day School Week

Published: February 8, 2018

A school district north of Denver may be the first metro area school district to switch to a four-day school week in order to save money.

Brighton’s School District 27J made the announcement after voters turned down a request in November to increase local taxes for the fast-growing district, reports The Denver Post. The money would have been used to compensate teachers, upgrade books and materials and expand staffing, according to the district.

The district has asked voters to increase local funding 16 times between 2000 and 2017. A mill levy override has not been approved since 2000. The latest tax measure voters rejected would have raised their property taxes by approximately $73 for every $100,000 of home value.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, 87 districts in Colorado already have four-day school weeks. Until recently, the changes were confined to rural districts.

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The Garfield Re-2 School District in western Colorado, where 4,898 students are enrolled, is currently the largest district in the state with a four-day school week. Comparatively, the Brighton school district has over 17,800 students, with 37 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school district has grown rapidly due in part to new, more affordable housing developments. It is expected to add 1,000 children per year through 2030, increasing the student body to a projected 30,000.

Switching to a four-day school week is estimated to save the district $1 million in the first year, mostly in transportation, utilities and substitute teacher costs.

School superintendent Chris Fiedler says the change is a way to try to retain teachers who won’t be getting the raises they would have if the tax increase had passed.

“The primary benefit is to attract and retain teachers,” said Fiedler.

The average salary for teachers in the school district is one of the lowest in the metro area but also has one of the lowest teacher turnover rates of about 12 percent.

Under the new schedule, teachers would continue to make the same amount of money but may have a more “professional” schedule with planning days built into the calendar on some Monday’s when schools won’t be in session, according to The Colorado Independent.

Fiedler says the current plan is to create a calendar for school Tuesday through Friday. Teachers would work at least one Monday a month on training and planning, removing other interruptions in the school week such as the currently scheduled planning days.

“One of the things we like most about this calendar is how pristine it is,” Fiedler said. “Right now, there are already relatively few weeks where kids are there five days a week.”

The school year won’t be longer but classes on Tuesday through Friday will run about 40 minutes longer. Fiedler also says he is fielding calls from teachers interested in working in the district.

School District 27J Faces Support, Criticism

Kathey Ruybal, the president of the Brighton Education Association, says the union surveyed members and found “overwhelming support” for the change.

“Teachers are already working a long day,” said Ruybal. “This will give teachers more time for planning but also to spend with our families.”

While many teachers are supportive of the potential change, some parents are not.

“It just feels like this whole conversation is a smack in the face because the school district didn’t get the money they wanted,” said Salina O’Connor, the mother of a first-grader in the district. “There has to be another way. Why couldn’t the community choose?”

O’Connor is also concerned that her daughter, who has learning disabilities, won’t do well with a longer school day.

Other parents are concerned about finding or paying for childcare or athletics suffering due to one less day of practice.

The district is reportedly exploring the idea of providing child care for Mondays when school would be closed. Fielder says sports teams will have the option to practice on Mondays like they do on Saturdays.

According to a study conducted by the Colorado Department of Education, among districts that have already implemented a four-day school week, 80 to 90 percent of community members favor its continuation.

The study also found opposition typically came from members of the community not directly associated with the school district and from those who feel school employees should work a traditional work week.

The final decision for School District 27J will be made on March 23 and would take effect in the fall if approved.

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Strategy & Planning Series