By SVERRE BAKKE
Students of Lyle School District No. 406 will attend classes four days a week during the 2008-09 school year, under a waiver request submitted by the district's board of directors to the State Board of Education.
The Lyle school board last Thursday approved a resolution that asks the State Board of Education to enable the district to convert its school calendar from five days a week to four days. The state board is expected to act on Lyle's 180-day waiver application during its July 23-24 meeting in Vancouver.
Martin Huffman, superintendent of Lyle schools, said the district is seeking a waiver of 32 days -- from the standard 180 days of classroom instruction to 148 days -- while pledging to provide students with at least 1,000 hours of instructional time, as required by statute.
"We've held two community meetings (in Dallesport and in Lyle), plus we've met with certified and classified staff at each school, to explain the thinking behind this proposal," Huffman noted. "The consensus is, `Let's try it and see if it can work.'"
A switch to a four-day school week in 2008-09 would save the Lyle School District about $68,000 in non-employee related costs (NERCs, for short, and figured at current rates/prices), for such budget items as substitute teachers, utilities and diesel for buses.
"The driving forces behind this are conservation -- to be a little greener in our operations -- and economics -- to save some money but not cut payroll," Huffman said.
Other benefits that could accrue to the district as a result of dropping one day from the school week include an increase in student attendance, a lower drop-out rate, fewer disciplinary referrals, and more flexibility in the scheduling of extracurricular activities.
"The schools I've talked to that made the switch (from five to four days) would never go back," Huffman said.
Currently all school districts in Washington are required by law to hold school 180 days per school year in order to meet the 1,000 hours of instruction standard. The situation could change in the next session of the Legislature, however.
State Sen. Jim Honeyford (R.-15th District) recently advised Huffman via e-mail that his office is drafting legislation "that would allow a local option for a four-day school week and require not more than 1,000 hours of instruction."
Huffman said Lyle schools could meet the 1,000 hours standard simply by adding a half hour of class time to each of the four school days.
According to the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, a private, non-profit clearinghouse for educators, Oregon is the only state in the Pacific Northwest with a law on the books that permits schools to operate on four-day week schedules.
Moreover, the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory notes in a "Four-day School Week" article on its website (nwrel.org) that more than a dozen Oregon school districts -- most of them small and rural -- currently observe a four-day week.