Voters in the Apache Junction Unified School District recently rejected an override bond that would have potentially provided the district with enough money to avoid closing schools on Fridays, which has resulted in a four-day school week for students across the district.
Apache Junction is hardly the first district in Arizona to make this decision; at least 41 other districts in Arizona have made the switch to four-day weeks as well.
The motivation behind these decisions is, unfortunately, a common one: finances.
Apache Junction is facing a $2.7 million budget deficit and needed to find a way to make that up.
Its solution included not only changing the weekly schedule, but also increasing class sizes and closing an elementary school.
Leaving aside the possibly detrimental effects of those last two decisions, changing the schedule to a four-day plan was possibly the worst thing the district could have done.
For one thing, it’s not actually saving very much money. The district will still be required to pay teachers the same annual salary, and building rental and utility costs will remain the same.
Ultimately the only things it will be saving money on are cafeteria and transportation costs for that day.
While those expenses can be formidable, there are almost no other benefits to this decision that could outweigh the inconvenience. Students are missing an entire day of instruction that they had previously.
At first glance, this mostly affects the students, but it’s really much more than that.
For one thing, the teachers are now forced to cram the same amount of information into less time.
That, at the very least, does not bode well for students’ abilities to learn materials in time for the ever-popular Arizona yearly assessments.
Moreover, they’ve definitely lost any time that wasn’t actually spent preparing for those pesky exams, which constantly have their usefulness debated anyway.
Field trips, exploratory units and all the extras that put learning into context for struggling children will fall by the wayside.
Meanwhile, parents are now responsible for caring for their children for an extra day. Particularly for elementary-aged students, this is a huge deal.Students who are too young to stay home by themselves must now go to day care or find alternate arrangements.
This is great for the day care industry and horrible for the parents who are now required to pick up the financial slack left by the school board.
The biggest victims of this decision, however, are unquestionably the students.
Their instructional time is being crammed, their teachers are becoming even more overworked and their parents are likely growing to resent their education—never a healthy situation, particularly in an environment designed to foster a lifelong love of learning, not destroy it.
With school boards across the state struggling and making decisions similar to this one, it’s hard not to question Gov. Doug Ducey’s treatment of education in his budgetary decisions.
However, this is the budget that school boards have to work with and, when making their decisions of where to cut corners, instructional time is something that should definitely not be on the chopping block.
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