While Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is implementing a four-day workweek for state workers, a school district in rural northeastern Utah is one step closer to permanently having a four-day school week — and other districts statewide may be close behind.

Rich School District's four-day school week pilot program received high marks from the State Board of Education's law and policy committee Friday — both for reducing student absences and for decreasing transportation costs.

Rich District is headed into the final year of its three-year pilot program and would like to continue it indefinitely.

The district has axed Fridays and lengthened the other four school days, which now run from 8 a.m. to 3:21 p.m. Six class periods last one hour and three minutes each. The class schedule meets the state requirements of 990 hours of annual instruction.

Previously students would miss several classes — or whole days of school — for athletic activities. Now all athletic events are scheduled for Thursday nights, Fridays and Saturdays.

"I think districts statewide would do it if there was some motivation to do it," said board member Teresa Theurer, of Logan. She is a member of the law and policy committee. Rich District Superintendent Dale Lamborn said he believes the four-day program is successful in rural areas but may not have the same benefits in urban districts. City-area districts generally have shorter bus routes. Also, child care on Fridays would be a challenge for many parents who may be working one or more jobs.

Some other rural districts that are watching Rich include Duchesne and Kane. However, superintendents of these two districts emphasize that while they would like to switch to a four-day week, it would be useless if other schools and districts in their region don't go to the same athletic schedule.

State deputy superintendent Larry Shumway said he is impressed that Rich District has been able to stick to the weekend

athletic schedule so far. Some schools and districts have tried the four-day week in the past but reverted to their previous athletic schedules after a few years.

While the initial goal of the four-day school week was to reduce student absences, a side benefit is the decrease in transportation costs. The district is saving about $1,500 each week from not having to drive students to and from school one day a week, Lamborn said. The district only has 436 students.

"It's a huge added benefit," Lamborn said.

Test scores in Rich District have remained steady. Lamborn presented data on state- and federal-required testing to the committee.

Absences due to athletic events in the first, second and third trimesters during the 2007-08 school year decreased 81 percent, 66 percent and 97 percent respectively compared to the 2005-06 school year, when Rich District was on a five-day week, according to district data.

Shumway said, "I don't think there is anyone on this committee who isn't favorably impressed."

The committee took no formal action but plans to vote on Rich's request next month. The committee's recommendation will then go to the State School Board for a possible vote during its September meeting.


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com