ARIMO, Idaho As their enrollment numbers continue to trickle away, many of Idaho's rural school districts are switching to a four-day school week to save money and are seeing some extra benefits.
At Marsh Valley High School, one of the latest school districts to make the switch as an experiment this year, teachers say attendance has gone up. At Bear Lake High, where they're in their second year of a four-day week, teachers say students show up fresher and ready to learn.
"I'm almost convinced the four-day week is better than chocolate," said Marsh Valley High Principal Gary Yearsley. "Personally, I'd hate to go back to a five-day now."
Public schools in Idaho are funded through state money, which is handed out on a per pupil basis. As these schools' enrollments decline, the money they get from the state goes down with them.
The four-day week is meant to save money by cutting down on utility payments. Classroom thermostats at Marsh Valley High are dialed down from 70 degrees to 55 degrees on Fridays, and it's not uncommon to see teachers bundled up in the winter coats in their classrooms on Fridays getting in extra work.
By lengthening class periods from an hour to 70 minutes, and lengthening school days by an hour, the district expects to save between $60,000 and $80,000 per year. At the Soda Springs School district, they've saved between $130,000 and $200,000 per year, depending on the weather.
The lengthened days mean students at Marsh Valley will actually be in class a few more hours this school year than last school year.
And, school officials say, the four-day week has lead to an attitude change among students. Students are scheduling their activities and appointments on Fridays, Yearsley said, and they're less likely to cut classes when they know they've got a three-day weekend ahead of them.
"It does seem more businesslike when you walk the halls," he said. "We have not had as many problems this year."
But some teachers say they've had to cut some material out of their teaching programs because of the new four-day week.
Despite the increased class time, losing a whole class period makes it difficult to keep on schedule, said Marsh Valley teacher Tamara Christiansen.
She said she's had to cut some "fluff" out of her curriculum, including a project in which her students pretend to be reporters and organize news programs.Comment on this story
Officials at Shelley School District No. 60, where the four-day week was tried and abandoned in the early 1990s, said districts shouldn't make the switch just to save money.
Shelley High School Vice Principle Dale Clark said while he saw the same attitude adjustment in students, his district saved very little money and ultimately had to issue a levy to get back in the black.
"You're saving some little amount," he said. "The money issue is a terrible way to sell it, and it's very little reason to go there."