Coeur d’Alene weighs solutions to solve $6 million shortfall

Shon Hocker

The Coeur d’Alene School District is weighing several contentious solutions for a looming $6 million budget shortfall next year.

Trustees have not yet decided how to address the shortfall. More meetings are scheduled April 8 and April 11. The district is working with a June deadline to select cost-saving options.

“About 85% of our budget is people and about 85% of these reductions are people,” said Shon Hocker, district superintendent, during a budget workshop this week.

The shortfall is attributable to three issues:

  • A change in how the state funds public schools. The district lost an estimated $705,000.
  • Enrollment is down 460 students, with another 300 expected to drop next year.
  • Operating costs increased about $2 million.

The budget savings plan suggests reducing 19 teaching positions to align staff with enrollment declines, saving the district $1.4 million. An additional 35 staff positions — classified, certified and administrative — could be reduced in five phases, totaling $2.7 million in savings.

“We’re creating a worst-case picture and hope for a best scenario, and maybe we’ll end up somewhere in the middle,” said Hocker.

Closing a school on the east side of town is a viable option, too, but one that creates future complications, as the west side adds more homes and residents.

“Keep that in the back of our minds. We could close a school and that would save a million dollars,” Hocker said.

About 6% of the budget needs to be trimmed, possibly impacting staffing levels, class sizes, the number of open schools, programming and school week schedules.

Coeur d’Alene considers the four-day school calendar

About 75% of families and staff favor moving to a four-day school week, and the majority selected Friday as their favored day, according to a staff and parent survey.

Coeur d’Alene sent surveys to 13,400 parents, students and staff last month. The district received 4,006 completed surveys, or about a 30% return rate. Around 841 staff and 3,356 parents responded.

“We feel as though we’ve got a good idea of how folks are feeling,” said Stefany Bales, director of community relations for Coeur d’Alene schools.

The district’s closest neighbor, the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, has a far different opinion. Leaders at the Academy will stick to five-day school weeks to benefit students. The academy is a public school that provides college preparatory education for grades 6-12. It’s authorized by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission.

“The academy will still be here for our students, five days per week, delivering quality education. And our students will continue to lead the state. I hope that, like me, you believe that the answer to the state’s education woes is not less school, but better school, defined by high academic standards and student achievement,” Dan Nicklay, the academy’s principal, wrote in a letter to parents.

He also wrote that every major decision a school administration makes should be based on what is best for its students, and not on teacher retention, employee morale, or financial benefit.

Stefany Bales

Nearby Post Falls, Boundary County and West Bonner have all moved to the four-day schedule. Avery, Kellogg, Kootenai, Mullan, Plummer-Worley, St. Maries and Wallace are using the five-day model. 

Lakeland is facing a $1 million budget shortfall and Lake Pend Oreille a $1.8 million shortfall. Both districts are not considering the four-day option next year.

But it is being considered by Coeur d’Alene, and leaders are waiting for more legislative direction.

Hocker reminded trustees that the Legislature is still working on a specific education budget so any changes to the school week calendar should be pushed down the list of savings priorities.

“We can’t commit to the school calendar change because we can’t jeopardize losing the state’s facility money,” Hocker said, which would generate $26 million over 10 years. “We just clearly cannot risk a calendar schedule change at the demise of those dollars.”

Should students attend school four or five days a week?

CDA says the calendar move would improve the district’s student achievement initiatives, particularly its professional learning community focus, and the result will be improved academic performance.

According to the district, the condensed week concept is well-established across Idaho because it offers numerous benefits:

  • By condensing instructional time into fewer days, students are often more focused and engaged in the classroom. Students retain information more effectively when they have longer periods of uninterrupted learning.
  • Condensed weeks also provide valuable additional time for teachers to collaborate with colleagues, engage in professional learning communities and attend training sessions. 
  • Moving to a four-day weekly schedule would save $1 million per year. By operating on a compressed schedule, the district can reduce expenses associated with utilities, transportation and facility maintenance. 
  • With an additional day out of school each week, parents/guardians have more flexibility to spend time with their children. This improved work-life balance can enhance family relationships, reduce stress levels and contribute to overall well-being.
Dan Nicklay

EdNews asked Bales to provide data showing the effects of a four-day schedule on student achievement. She was unable to provide the information but directed EdNews to the Department of Education where “I believe you can figure it out … That’s what we’ve done.” 

According to Nicklay, cost savings are negligible so schools should instead consider the loss of instruction time.

“Moving to a four-day week results in the loss of forty instructional days! Forty days less of teaching and learning! Advocates of the four-day week will point to a slightly longer school day, as if adding ten minutes to each class every day will compensate for losing the equivalent of eight weeks of schooling. It will not. None of those common arguments is worthy of discussion unless it has first been determined that less school will lead to improved student outcomes. It will not,” Nicklay wrote.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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