Pawhuska School Board narrowly votes down proposal 3-2

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Pawhuska School Board narrowly votes down proposal 3-2

Following approximately 45 minutes of intense final discussions, the Pawhuska Board of Education voted Monday to maintain the traditional five-day class week for next school year.

The 3-2 decision rejected a proposed switch to a four-day week, which had been under consideration for more than five months. School board members Christi McNeil, Lori Loftis and Justin Sellers voted against the four-day proposal, while board members Jeff Bute and Patricia Wilson were in favor of the plan.

Although only board members and the school superintendent were permitted to speak on the issue, an overflow audience of around 30 persons attended the special meeting.

Bute made a motion to adopt the four-day schedule, with added proposals for “academic enrichment, credit-recovery and tutoring programs” to be implemented on the eliminated class day. He stipulated that the change would be contingent upon the successful setting of the school calendar and the negotiation of a teachers’ contract.”

“I’ve looked this over ten ways to Sunday,” said Bute. “The Pawhuska School District would be in a position to benefit (from the four-day week).”

When pressed by board members to state his position on the issue, Pawhuska Superintendent Landon Berry expressed his belief that the choice should be made by patrons of the school district.

“I think, more than anything, a lot of these things are community decisions — not school decisions,” Dr. Berry said.

The superintendent went over some pros and cons of the shortened week. Positive aspects of the plan would include improving teacher morale and providing time for more efficient planning, according to Berry. There also could be cost-cutting benefits, he said, “but there might not be if we provided for the extra instruction.”

Negatives could result from the four-day week in the form of child-care problems, added risks to “home-alone” students and lost wages for the district’s support personnel. Berry suggested that shorter classess could limit instruction to “one concept per period.”

He said the district’s test scores already “are not the greatest” and wondered if they would not decline further under the four-day plan.

“My opinion is that it won’t make a lot of teachers better, but I think it might make the not-so-good teachers worse,” added Berry, who said he did not think the issue was negotiable with regard to teacher contracts.

Bute pointed to the overwhelming support for the proposal by faculty members and said he felt “happy teachers are productive teachers.”

McNeil said she wondered how the enhanced programs could be paid for in light of the state’s declining support for public education.

Loftis expressed concern that students who most need the extra tutoring would be unlikely to partipate on days they were not required to attend school.

“If they’re struggling in the five-day school week, what’s going to happen if we go to four?,” Loftis asked. Of the shortened week, she said: “I just can’t see it working.”

Berry said he did not think there was any way that students could be required to attend any extra classes that were being offered on the off-days.

Newly-elected board member Wilson said that although she had not originally supported the proposal, she now believed that it could prove to be beneficial for the district.

“Ultimately, it can succeed,” said Wilson, who later added that she thought “our schools have declined.”

McNeil said she considers it the mission of the school district to offer its students the highest-quality education possible and asked: “Is this going to do that — bring students where they need to be with regard to academic achievement?”

Bute said he felt the four-day plan would provide more tools to improve student performance, in addition to helping the district’s recruitment of teachers. He said the four-day school week had only been unsuccessful in districts that rushed into the change due to economic necessity.

Board president Justin Sellers — who cast the deciding “nay” in the 3-2 vote — said he had lost 27 pounds “and quite a bit of sleep” while pondering the class-week issue. He added that he has discussed the plan with numerous teachers.

“They’re looking for any way to help bring morale back up,” Sellers said.

Proponents of the shortened-week have pointed out that Pawhuska schools have lost at least a half dozen teachers in recent years to districts with the shorter-week schedule. In Osage County, alone, the Barnsdall, Prue and Woodland schools have switched to the four-day plan.