By SVERRE BAKKE
Citing a 1981 precedent, the State Board of Education last week turned down the Lyle School District's "green" request to switch to a four-day school week.
The 16-member board, meeting in Vancouver, declined to waive the statutory requirement that schools must be in session for at least 180 days each school year. It based its decision on a 1981 ruling that held exceptions to the state's basic education requirements can't be granted for transportation purposes.
Lyle School District, through a resolution of its own board of directors, applied for the state board's permission to change its school operations from five days to four days a week, or from 180 days to 148 days for the year.
The sprawling district's transportation budget has been particularly hard hit by the high cost of fuel for its fleet of buses, which operate on far-ranging routes from a hub in Lyle. In its application to the state, the district cited direct budgetary savings (for non-employee related costs) of around $68,000 with a four-day school week, and indirect environmental benefits from shutting down its buses one day a week.
Instead, the district will operate in 2008-09 with a 182-day schedule for staff and a 176-day calendar for students. (The state board granted Lyle's 180-day waiver application for four Learning Improvement Days, which are for teacher training.)
Lyle Superintendent Martin Huffman said the obstacle to any change in operations is the 180-day requirement.
"The 1,000-hour student contact time (requirement) is well within the reach of a four-day week," he continued. "We are trying to get away from the 180-day regulation and simply comply with the hourly requirement."
A solution to Lyle's struggle with fuel costs may rest in the next session of the state Legislature. Huffman said he is going to work with leaders in other school districts and state legislators to educate them about "this problem and get everybody working toward saving fuel, dollars, and setting an example for others."
One ally may be the State Board of Education. Huffman said "the board is very aware of the problem" and plans to address a letter to the Legislature that raises such issues as fuel costs and local control, including whether school districts should be allowed to set their own days of attendance.
He added that Terry Bergesen, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, also indicated her intention to bring these matters to legislators' attention.
"This effort has two shades of green," Huffman noted in a memorandum dated July 25. "Schools will save a boatload of money on fuel and we won't be using as much diesel as in the past. I am certain that if all agencies considered the situation we are in with fuel costs and consumption, our carbon footprint can be reduced drastically."