COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Colorado now leads the nation with the most school districts operating on four-day school weeks. It’s not a new concept, but a trend that has accelerated in recent years.
And it now includes more southern Colorado school districts, three of which are in their first year of the shortened week. Montezuma-Cortez and Ignacio in the southwest corner of Colorado are now on this schedule according to state data, and so is Kit Carson which is east of Colorado Springs.
But why are more districts making the switch and what are the factors to consider when school boards discuss four-day school weeks? For some rural areas, it’s been the normal schedule for decades.
"Our days are a bit longer, but we are able to get done what we need to do,” says Superintendent Kelli Thompson, Elbert School District 200.
Elbert School District 200 has been operating this way since 1982 for agriculture purposes so kids were free to work on the family farm.
"We initially didn't realize how much savings we would make,” says Thompson. “We do only have one paved road in our district and so most of our transportation is on the rural dirt road."
According to Thompson, the district saves just over $640,000 a year on salaries, food, transportation, fuel, and utilities to have one less school day.
To meet state requirements, districts on a four-day week hold classes for seven and a half hours for 144 days of school. Traditional five-day-a-week districts do six hours for 180 days of school.
What was once commonly seen in only rural districts, is now being applied in more urban areas across the state.
Brighton 27J is one of the largest districts in the nation on a four-day week, making the switch in 2018.
"The advantages in my mind are attracting and retaining teachers,” says Superintendent Dr. Chris Fiedler. “We have had great success around our graduation rates and seeing a steady increase over the years since we've gone to a four-day week. We did survey parents three semesters in and the community and we are still at 80 percent or 82 percent in support of."
For the 2022-2023 school year, 124 districts out of 178 in the state are operating under the short-week structure. With a majority of southern Colorado under this system. While we haven’t heard back from all local school districts, D-20, D-11, and D-3 tell us they are not considering a 4-day school week at this time.
“In Cañon City Schools one week you'll have four days, one week you'll have five, and back and forth and back and forth,” says Cañon City Schools Superintendent, Adam Hartman.
Hartman says they are leaning on community input right now while they weigh the pros and cons of a shorter week. He says their school board hopes to make its decision around the holidays.
“Are there enough entities in our community to provide childcare for our little kids on Fridays every week if we were to go that direction when mom and dad both have to work, but now the child doesn't have school,” questions Hartman.
Proponents argue with one less day, districts can save on busing and utilities, but most of all staffing. Several districts said they dropped the fifth day because it helps them recruit teachers to schools that can’t afford to compete on salary. For example, Brighton 27J paid teachers an average salary of $56,000 last school year. This is about $5,000 - $20,000 below neighboring school districts. Teachers there get paid less, but the district sells a three-day weekend every week with Monday off.
"I think that becomes an issue for the individual who is the teacher and determines whether that is going to fit into their lifestyle as well,” says Tracie Rainey, the Executive Director at Colorado School Finance Project.
Opponents say it could never work in a place like Denver or Colorado Springs where low-income families rely on school for so much more than education.
"Districts have been very sensitive to that and look to try and find ways to accommodate space within their own facility or partner with an organization so they still have that continuity for parents. Districts don't take that lightly, they definitely continue to focus on knowing the custodial component of education,” says Rainey.
There are also education gaps to take into consideration. The Colorado Department of Education recently did a study that found students do no worse on a four-day week compared to the traditional schedule. But in a post-COVID world, districts are facing all kinds of other learning obstacles.
"It absolutely is a different landscape in some of those learning gap areas and we've seen it and are not alone, many Colorado school districts say that this year on their performance frameworks they slid backyard,” says Hartman.
"Are we being fair to our kids, I am not sure,” says Thompson. “My personal opinion is no we're not. And we are not being fair to teachers because teachers under Senate Bill 191 teacher evaluation is held for that growth and that accountability for those students and when kids have missed a year or more on their education, having that model is going to be tricky for us to follow."