WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The Williams Unified School District (WUSD) after school programs could be in jeopardy, possibly leaving working parents wondering how to watch their children after school and on Fridays.
With a grant that pays for after school and Friday programs for students set to expire in May, the WUSD Governing Board discussed possible changes to the school schedule at a Feb. 27 special meeting.
The 21st Century grant, which the district has used for 10 years, expires May 22. With the district's current Monday through Thursday schedule, the grant pays for an after school program from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and a Friday program from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students in the program receive tutoring and academic instruction. The district can not renew the grant and has not found other ways to pay for the program.
WUSD Superintendent Rachel Savage outlined three possible solutions to the grant expiring. Savage said she would like to make a decision around spring break, which is March 18-22.
The first solution was to stay on the four-day schedule, which would require parents to arrange Friday care for their students.
The second solution would be to switch to a four and a half day schedule, in which teachers would use the other half of the day for "collaboration time." However, that would still require parents to find childcare for half of the day.
The final option was to switch to a five-day school week.
"The way I see it, we're the community school, and we should tailor our services to meet the needs of our community, whatever those are," Savage said.
According to Savage, almost 100 children participate in the program from 3 to 4 p.m., 15 to 20 participate from 4 to 5 p.m. and between 15 to 40 attend on Fridays.
This is the fourth year the district has been on a four-day schedule. Before switching to the four-day schedule, the district was on a four and a half day schedule for several years.
The district has talked to the Williams Recreation Center about providing a Friday program if the district were to stay on a four-day schedule. The Rec Center estimated offering a Friday program would cost the district $10,000.
"I have concerns about us funding a program that's offsite and we have no control over. I'm not certain if that's a liability issue," Savage said. "The other option is if we're paying for the program, why wouldn't we run it and offer those hours to our own people or offer those hours to our certified teachers who could in fact provide academic intervention or enrichment or whatever the kids need."
The district is also exploring the feasibility of releasing all students at the same time, so younger children can ride the bus home with older siblings. Currently, the elementary school gets out at 3 p.m. and the middle school gets out at 4 p.m.
So far, Savage has discussed the three options with certified staff, and the majority voted to stay on the current four-day schedule.
Savage said she plans to use the district's Connect-Ed automated phone system to survey parents about which of the three options they would like.
WUSD will also put on a parent and community public forum March 12 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Williams High School Culinary Arts room, 440 S. Seventh St.
"I want to make sure that everybody has had an ample opportunity to provide input, feedback, concerns, discuss advantages and disadvantages of whatever the choice may be," Savage said.
Board members came up with a list of information they would like to discuss at their retreat tomorrow and in making their decision. They will take into account staff opinions, the results from the Connect-Ed survey, opinions from the parent forum and information from the Rec Center. The board will also consider changes that may have occurred in switching to a four-day schedule and changes that may occur in another schedule change, such as cost savings, enrollment changes, changes in test scores and the number of instructional minutes.
The state requires the district to have the same amount of instructional minutes as schools with five-day schedules, Savage said.
"It comes down to how those instructional minutes are being used," Savage said. "Are we doing two math lessons in one day, or are we just stretching out one math lesson and are we slowly but surely getting behind?"
Board President David Nenne said changing the schedule could potentially increase costs.
"We're not anywhere near saving the money that we thought we would, which was the reason we went to the four-day schedule to begin with," he said.
Board member Thomas Ross said he was interested in how students use their day off.
While some students and staff work on Fridays, other students use the day to sleep in and hang out with friends, members said.
"You put the kids at the heart of every decision," Ross said. "And it's not necessarily making the kids happy, otherwise we'd feed them pizza and give them four-day weekends. But it's their education, and I think that's what I'm going to be basing my decision on."
Williams Education Association President Natalie Mann said the time frame concerned her.
"I'm not understanding the big rush to make a decision. Rachel has told us that she wants a decision by spring break. And that absolutely panics me that we would be making such a huge decision in a matter of a couple of weeks," she said. "Since this was known about in October as a concern, I just wish that it had been more of the year taken up with this discussion."
Board members said they must act quickly since the money runs out in May.
"We're certainly not going to change the schedule just for the sake of making a change," Nenne said. "The urgency here is we need to make the public aware as soon as we can that the Friday (program) is going away."