Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s idea for a four-day work week is old hat for the Rich School District.

The northeast Utah district just wrapped up its second year of a three-year pilot program for a four-day school week.

While the governor's goal is to cut costs, the main focus for the Rich School District is to reduce absences by scheduling extracurricular activities on Fridays and Saturdays instead of during the week.

Other school districts, such as Duchesne and Kane, are interested in the four-day week. In these rural areas, long-distance travel for activities keeps students out of class.

"Rich has been able to pull it off. If we want to improve academics, we need kids in school more," said Kane District Superintendent Bob Johnson.

Rich District Superintendent Dale Lamborn says the program is working well in his district, which has an enrollment of 452. Absences have decreased over the past two years. Test scores have held relatively steady.

"The majority of students love it," Lamborn said. "They don't miss class time for athletics, and they don't have to make up work."

While the four-day school week plan seems to be running smoothly for the Rich School District, a rural farming community, Lamborn says he doesn't believe it would work well for urban school districts.

"I wouldn't tell other districts what to do, but I don't think it's best for everyone," Lamborn said.

When contacted this week, officials with Salt Lake City, Granite and Ogden school districts said they are not looking at a four-day school week.

The Salt Lake District, however, is doing a summer four-day work week, cutting out five Fridays, simply to save utility costs.

The Salt Lake schedule is optional for employees. They can work four 10-hour days or they can work eight hours and take Friday off as a vacation day if they have child-care issues, said district spokesman Jason Olsen.

"It's been very popular with the employees," he said.

The summer short-week program saves the Salt Lake City School District about $50,000, mainly in utility costs.

Olsen said doing the four-day program during the school year wouldn't fly. Many parents in the district work one or more jobs. "When you get in a city environment, and parents don't have the ability for child care, a four-day school week sometimes doesn't work for them," he said.

The Weber School District has been doing a summer short week for four years. It runs from June 1 to Aug. 10. The district typically saves approximately $500,000 each summer with its program, according to Drew Wilson, district director of facilities and operations.

Lamborn plans to present a full report of his district's four-day pilot program to the Utah State Board of Education in August. He hopes after a third year in the pilot program, the State Board will give Rich permission to make it permanent.

State Board member Teresa Theurer, of Logan, says she believes one of the benefits for the Rich School District is many of the coaches are teachers, so the four-day program keeps the teachers in the classroom.

"I think it's a great idea," Theurer said. "Hopefully this can work out for other rural schools."

However, Johnson said if other districts in Kane's region don't switch to a four-day week and schedule athletics and other activities for only Fridays and Saturdays, it wouldn't be effective for Kane to go to a four-day week.

"It would be quite an adjustment," Johnson said. "Whether it will ever happen or not, I am not sure."

Duchesne District Superintendent John Aland said if the districts in his region don't do a four-day school week, perhaps the only alternative to keep kids in school is to eliminate some of the activities.

The Utah High School Activities Association board plans to discuss in August the idea of cutting back on athletic contests to reduce transportation costs for Utah school districts.

"It's on the table for serious discussion, but it will need to have serious study," said UHSAA executive director Dave Wilkey.


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com