The Pros and Cons of a Four-Day School Week

by Eric S. Taylor, CPA, CGFM, Audit Partner

Posted on March 31, 2015

After news of the state education budget cuts, school administrators across the state are faced with the concern and burden of trying to make additional cuts to their already lean district budgets. As another way to reduce operating costs, some districts may be considering implementing a 4-day school week. Several districts in the state have already implemented 4-day schedules, predominately in rural areas. Thus, this is not new to the education industry in Arizona. 

Shutting down schools for one day a week can reduce expenditures in a number of areas. Utility costs would be reduced by not having to light, heat, or cool a building to the same extent as would be necessary if the building were occupied. In addition, labor costs would be cut by reducing the hours of hourly employees such as food service workers, custodians, and bus drivers. There would also be savings for food, janitorial supplies, and bus fuel. These are definitely areas that can reduce district expenditures to help meet necessary budget cuts. How much can be saved by making cuts to these areas is unclear, and would vary from district to district. Each district should take the time to research and analyze how much money can be saved. However, possible budget cuts should not be the only factor to consider when making a decision on a switch to a 4-day week.

Employee morale and turnover are things to keep in mind with such a change. Custodians,
cafeteria workers, and bus drivers could be financially strapped with their reduced salaries. Some teachers, administrators, secretaries and other employees may dislike the longer workdays. Others may like the longer workdays in trade for another day off in the week. Staff could be surveyed on their preference of the 4-day work week. 

Parents of the children could also be surveyed. Some parents may see their children’s extra day off as a chance to spend more time with them. They also may like the opportunity to schedule doctor or dentist appointments on those days off, so less instructional time is missed. Working parents may not like the idea of having to arrange and pay for an additional full day of child care. 

What many would say is the most important factor to consider is how the students will handle the 4-day school week. There is concern that the longer days may make it more difficult for students, especially the younger children, to stay focused and engaged. In addition, when a student or teacher misses a day during the week, 20 percent more instructional time is lost for that week. Another concern is at-risk or special-needs students may have a difficult time retaining information with the extra day off. Although these sound like challenges, they ultimately may not have a negative outcome on student achievement. Multiple studies have shown that a change to a 4-day school week did not negatively impact student academic performance. In some 4-day week districts, academic performance actually improved. Student academic achievement is something that should definitely be researched to determine what is right for the students within the community.

The above considerations for adopting a 4-day school week merely scratch the surface on areas of concern. There are many more areas that can, and should, be taken into account when deciding whether or not to make a calendar change. Researching the topic by reading books and articles about 4-day schedules is important. What could be considered, as well, is to discuss the pros and cons with administrators in other Arizona school districts that are already implementing a 4-day school week. At the end of the day, a school board has to decide which necessary budget cuts are in the best interest of the students, parents, and employees of the district.