May 3 Public Forum on Four Day School Week

Some board members of the RE-2 School District in Lamar may or may not change their minds regarding a proposed four day school week following a public hearing on the proposal set for 6pm, Tuesday, May 3 at the high school auditorium. The proposed change came to a vote during a board meeting April 18, with members split down the middle. Directors Medina, Winsor and Whitham voted in favor of a four day week, with Peterson, Schwartz and Wheaton voting against. That vote might change following the public forum. If not, the district will continue with a five day week.

Lincoln school will close next year in a cost-cutting move, various positions in the district were eliminated but even a four day week may not be enough to balance an $860,000 budget shortfall for the 2011-2012 school year. Interim superintendent Dave Tecklenburg stated former superintendent Soper estimated the savings at $90,000, and according to Alta Vista charter school administrator Talara Coen, Wayne Graybeal, whom Soper replaced upon his retirement, gave a conservative estimate the year before at $50,000.

The move to tighten the school budget will force some school families to tighten their own budgets to pay for additional day care next year. Board president Ron Peterson was mindful of how the chain of events would play out, stating the change could not be taken lightly. He commented on the April 18 board meeting that the decisions they made would have a profound impact on the general community.

The Prowers Journal contacted several local child care providers to determine how they view the proposed change and its potential impact on their operations. Courtney Holt-Rogers, director of the Welcome Home Child Care Center, said they can accommodate 25 school age students and currently have 19 enrolled. The Center has been in operation for just over a decade, and is staffed to handle infants and toddlers and students up to 13 years of age.

Talara Coen, Alta Vista charter school administrator, said the longer school hours for a four day schedule would mean an even longer day for her K-6 grade students. As a charter school, she said Alta Vista can maintain a five day schedule, but transportation arrangements would be needed from the school dsitrict. “It’s possible that some of our students wouldn’t be picked up until 4:30pm or later, and would not be getting home until around 6pm with a four day schedule,” she commented. Coen believes the shorter week could translate to lower student learning retention with three days away from classes each week. Coen said she’ll have to confer with the school board and survey the Alta Vista parents for their input.

Lori Hammer, director of the Teen Center in Lamar, said her operation would also face late hour transportation issues for younger students. The Teen Center is partnered with P3 and both are funded under a Justice Assistance Grant aimed at providing safe, drug free schools and communities across the country. The Teen Center usually hosts between 70 to 80 students a day, and it is possible the facility will see an increase in the number of students if Lamar goes to a four day week. The Teen Center currently holds afternoon hours, and is not exactly a day-care provider. The grant-funded operation is open five days a week. Whether they would have to extend their hours to accommodate students on the fifth day of the week is not known at this time. Hammer said her younger students would be arriving later during the week, but probably leaving at the usual time in the afternoon when they’re picked up by parents or busses. Hammer said older students can remain until 8pm and can provide their own transportation. She said the shorter school week may be moot for the center, as the JAG funding will end in September, and if not renewed, the future of the Teen Center is uncertain. Meg Day of P3 is seeking several different grants at this time, and may find out by June if the JAG funds have been approved.

Some parents have been using private day care facilities in Lamar for their children, but exactly how many children will need to go to them for the extra day is not certain at this point, or if they can be accommodated by the current day care centers in private homes. State regulations allow only so many students per home, pending certification and facilities, to allow an increase beyond a set number. To date, Lamar has 13 licensed home providers to accommodate a total of 53 children. It is not known how close those providers are to their full capacity.

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