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EDITORIAL: Schools must adjust to changing rules

| March 22, 2024 1:00 AM

The longtime leader of Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy presides over the best high school in Idaho and one of the best public schools in the nation. So when Dan Nicklay says, adamantly and unapologetically, that Charter and the five-day school week are inseparable, his words carry weight.

Was his recent letter notifying Charter parents of that position a recruiting tool? Well, it can’t hurt to show how you and the competition differ. Post Falls School District switched to a four-day week, and under financial pressure Coeur d’Alene is considering the same or a hybrid four-/five-day school week.

Nicklay raised some interesting arguments in his letter, hammering home this condensed schedule deal-buster: “Forty days less of teaching and learning!” When Nicklay adds that decisions should be driven by what’s best for the student, who can argue?

While our learned friend has earned the right to point to the scoreboard — Charter is, after all, an undisputed champ — the public education game itself is changing. And if you’re not the king, you risk becoming a pawn.

That’s the situation nearly 100 Idaho public school districts and charter schools have recognized in adopting condensed school weeks. The reality for them is this: The state’s funding formula brutally punishes declining enrollment. Coeur d’Alene is experiencing an enrollment drop since the pandemic, and the slippery slope in this demographically aging district isn’t projected to reverse course anytime soon.

Going to a shorter school week to save Coeur d’Alene $500,000 to $1 million a year is conjecture at this point. But if you get more students enrolled and those students actually fill the seats regularly, you have a far better chance to avoid the kind of fiscal pain Coeur d’Alene School District is facing now.

Churches have added coffee bars and live music. Newspapers have cut delivery days so carriers don’t work 365 nights a year. Organizations around the world are changing the way they work because the world itself is changing.  

While public schools aren’t churches or newspapers, they do compete for customers or risk becoming obsolete. Even if Coeur d’Alene didn’t save a nickel by going to a shorter school week, doing so would bolster its bottom line beautifully if it operated in a way that’s more attractive to potential patrons. 

Four-day school weeks could mean more family time, better teacher morale and less employee turnover, all suggesting better results for students. Weigh that against a future with fewer teachers, larger class sizes and shuttered schools; which option do you think you would choose? 

The status quo in education doesn't work when key rules, like funding formulas, change. Adapting can be painful — and exciting.