RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There is a sign on the door of the Apache Junction central school office that reads, closed Fridays, weekends and holidays. Fridays - yes. The Arizona school district east of Phoenix moved to a four-day school week this year after it was left with little else to cut from a shrinking budget. Alexandra Olgin of member station KJZZ headed out to Apache Junction to find out what happens on a Friday.
ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: First thing in the morning, 11-year-old Chloe and her 8-year-old brother Austin are getting ready to head out the door.
BILL FLORENCE: All right, did you both brush your teeth already?
B. FLORENCE: Chloe, have you brushed your hair?
B. FLORENCE: (Laughter) OK.
OLGIN: Monday through Thursday, they catch the bus to Peralta Trail Elementary School. But today, their dad, Bill Florence, scoots them into the family's silver Honda.
B. FLORENCE: Seatbelts on?
OLGIN: He drops them off at a city-run day care program that costs him and his wife more than $100 a month. This year alone, they'll pay more than $1,500 for Friday activities because of the four-day schedule.
B. FLORENCE: We're not happy with it. It's not the ideal situation. We would rather have the kids in school on Friday.
OLGIN: But something had to go. The district of 4,500 students says its bills are high, too. After closing schools and growing class sizes, Apache Junction joined at least 41 other districts in Arizona already on the four-day schedule. Superintendent Chad Wilson says he feels like the state forced him into it.
CHAD WILSON: Pay your bills that cost what they cost in 2016 off of what you were making in 1987.
OLGIN: All across the country, districts have tried moving to the four-day school week to save money on things like gas for buses, heating and cooling bills and school lunches. This year, Apache Junction estimates it'll save less than 1 percent of the budget by dropping Friday classes - or about $33 per student per year. Again, the Florences pay close $30 dollars every Friday for day care. So were there other reasons behind the move?
SHANA MYERS: The four-day incentive was huge to say, wow.
OLGIN: Yes - teachers. That's third-grade teacher Shana Myers. She and her colleagues at Apache Junction make as much as $10,000 less than neighboring districts. And when they leave, turnover is expensive.
MYERS: The main idea, all right.
OLGIN: Myers says with the old schedule, she and the other teachers used to meet on Saturdays. But now they have Fridays to lesson plan.
MYERS: Did we find a bat video for bat habitats?
NICOLE BROKAW: Yes, there is a save the bats.
OLGIN: Today, Myers and fellow teacher Nicole Brokaw are working on next week's critical-thinking lessons. For Brokaw, Friday without students is an incentive to stay.
BROKAW: This really gives us an opportunity to close our week and think fresh about what's going to happen. And it's been helpful for us with the kids.
OLGIN: Fine for teachers, but as the Florences say, it can be tough on parent schedules and wallets. In fact, the district says the schedule is so unpopular with families, it expects to lose several hundred students to other school systems. For fifth grader Chloe Florence, it's personal.
CHLOE: My best friend, she and her two brothers, they moved to a private school because of the four-day school week.
OLGIN: And that's bad news for Apache Junction Unified. It's funded on a per-student basis. Chloe's mom, Jennifer Florence, says it just doesn't add up, but the family's decided to stick it out anyway.
JENNIFER FLORENCE: Well, in a philosophical sense we believe very strongly in public education, so we're trying to support the system. You know, abandon a ship, it will sink.
OLGIN: For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Olgin.
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