NEW BLOOMFIELD — New Bloomfield Board of Education members voted 4-3 Thursday to implement a four-day school week for the 2020-21 school year.
"We're glad the board did so much research and made the decision that's best for all New Bloomfield schools — the teachers, students and parents," said Joe Robinson, a New Bloomfield Middle School science teacher and member of the calendar committee. "With the four-day week having so much support from teachers, I'm glad to see support from the board."
The eight-member faculty calendar committee first floated the concept in late 2019 while preparing the 2020-21 calendar. At Superintendent Sarah Wisdom's urging, the committee conducted a survey, which showed 88 percent of teachers would like to consider a four-day work week.
Another survey of district patrons in late November found 50 percent supportive, 18.6 percent neutral, 17.6 percent opposed and 13.8 percent undecided.
The December public forum and school board meeting brought out strong opinions on both sides. Supporters, including both parents and teachers, touted it as a way to appeal to quality educators in a small district that can't afford to match salaries with Columbia or Jefferson City. Detractors cited decreased instructional time and the need to find child care for an extra 13 days out of the year.
Two board members voiced opposition to the swap during Thursday's meeting.
"There's still so many unknowns left hanging," Debbie Cuno said.
She said she's reluctant to leave children at home on Mondays.
"Our town has had issues with theft lately, if you've read Facebook, and yet we're going to (give) high school students idle time every Monday with nothing to do," Cuno said.
Cuno was ready to support a four-day week when it was proposed nine years ago to save the district from bankruptcy, but "this is a little different situation," she said.
Cuno added she doubts the four-day week will actually accomplish New Bloomfield's goal of attracting and retaining more teachers. She cited an Education Week article that said the No. 1 factor teachers look at when job-searching is salary.
"Although North Callaway (which switched to a four-day week in 2017) increased their applicants, they had a higher turnover rate last year than they did the last year they were on a five-day calendar," Cuno said. "A four-day week may be attractive to many — I mean, why wouldn't it be? — but it isn't going to change the amount of house payment bills."
Board member Craig Abbott also focused on teacher salaries.
"The fix just over a year ago was paying teachers more with Prop Y, which took us up into the top half compared to our competing districts," he said. "Now, just a short time later, we are saying we need to do more, and the fix is to allow them to work less hours for the same pay with taxpayers' monies at the expense of our kids."
He noted the district is in a good place financially and encouraged a focus on raising teacher and staff pay closer to the South Callaway and Fulton districts' rates.
Abbott said the roughly eight weeks board members have had to contemplate the switch wasn't adequate.
His biggest objection, however, was the decrease in instructional time. On a four-day schedule, children will be in class for 47 fewer hours per year (not including potential Monday remedial sessions or field trips).
Following the vote, Abbott announced via email he's withdrawn his bid for re-election to the board.
"I actually withdrew a couple weeks ago," he said. "I can't be a part of a governance process when I don't support or believe in taking away instructional time from kids."
Board member Todd Schattgen also voted against the switch but did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Four board members — Jonathan Morningstar, Stacey Allen, Amy Pendleton and board President Terri Sweeten — voted in favor of a four-day week. The four were less vocal during Thursday's meeting.
Allen said she spent a lot of time reviewing data and studies related to four-day weeks.
"I didn't see a ton of absolute negative or positive as far as student achievement goes," she said Friday. "There's a slight tendency toward increased attendance, which was one deciding factor."
More importantly, though, Allen saw potential benefits for the district's teachers.
"Teachers at North Callaway were excited to tell us about how it's really benefited them as teachers and how it inspires them to take time on weekends to be with family and friends and do the things that keep them engaged," Allen said. "The number of applicants they're getting is a lot bigger than ours. I hope we see the same results here."
Superintendent Wisdom said she's fairly neutral on the change but supports the school board and teachers on the decision.
"When 88 percent of the staff say they want this, it's something we have to look at," she said. "But whether it's five or four days, we will still educate the kids."
She thanked the school board for the time and effort they put into making the decision.
"It is not one any of us takes lightly," Wisdom said.
She's downright excited, however, about a new remedial program the district plans to launch on Mondays. Called "Monday Academy," it will provide extra help to the students who most need it.
This article was edited at 9:40 a.m. Jan. 20, 2019, to attribute quotes to Stacey Allen that incorrectly had been attributed to another board member in its original version.