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Looking to save money, Peoria school district considering four-day week

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What sounds like a student’s dream – three-day weekends every week – is a possible solution to a Phoenix-area school district’s budget woes.

Officials with the Peoria Unified School District, facing a $1.7 million hole for the next fiscal year and citing state funding cuts, say moving to a four-day school week could save the district nearly $4 million.

To make up for instruction lost on Fridays, the school day would be expanded by an hour Monday through Thursday.

At a meeting Thursday night, the district’s Governing Board heard opinions on the plan from parents, students and several state lawmakers. Members also shared survey results showing that 73 percent of teachers support moving to a four-day school week, while 52 percent of parents don’t want it.

Denton Santarelli, superintendent of Peoria Unified School District, acknowledged the concerns of parents and said they are right to feel that way.

“On the other hand, based upon the extreme conditions we’ve been through as a state, our teachers are saying maybe this four-day thing would at least be a way to help us,” he said.

Some parents have complained that they aren’t able to stay home on Fridays and that a four-day school week would force them to pay for child care.

Beverly Pingerelli, a member of the Governing Board, said she is concerned about how the change would affect some families.

“I believe a four-day school week disproportionately and may negatively affect lower-income families and the education of their children,” she said.

A presentation by the board also listed as concerns the effect of having longer school days, the limited amount of time available to implement a new schedule and the potential loss of students to schools offering traditional schedules.

Josh Rosen, a seventh-grader at Marshall Ranch Elementary School in Glendale, said he is concerned that longer days would hurt student performance.

“I think it will make it harder for students to pay attention in class, which will lead to a downfall in learning and ultimately worse grades in school,” he said.

Teresa Davis, a seventh-grader at Peoria Elementary School, said she supports the four-day week because it would save the jobs of some of her favorite teachers.

“With the five-day week teachers will be cut off. We won’t be getting as good of an education, I think,” she said. “I think that the four-day will be easier and we’ll be saving a lot more money.”

A financial analysis by the district estimated the savings at $1.6 million in food service, $750,000 in utilities and $700,000 in transportation.

The Governing Board also is considering a reduction in school staffing and in administration at the district offices. These cutbacks, along with some other restructuring, would save $2.8 million.

Members said they would continue to study the merits of both approaches.

Several Republican state lawmakers spoke at the meeting, addressing school funding.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, said that in fact the recently approved state budget increased funding for the district by about $193,000. She said she wanted attendees to be aware of that before moving forward with a four-day week or making other changes.

“We work very hard at the Legislature; we believe education is important,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cronkite News reporter Angie Schuster contributed to this report.