By Corey Evan

Independent-Enterprise

PAYETTE - The saying “It only takes one to blaze a trail” appears to hold true for the Payette School District, which says its conversation about whether to move forward with lopping a day off the school week has sparked similar conversation elsewhere.

As the discussion resumed at the District’s Board of Trustees meeting on Feb 10, it became clear it was one they were taking seriously. Superintendent Robin Gilbert said work was getting underway to get an idea of what a four-day week would look like.

“We drafted out minutes as far as the calendar goes,” she said, as the calendaring committee works out four- and five-day versions.

Gilbert said the dialogue she had with local day care providers such as Cuddlebug and River of Life day cares, and that the Boys & Girls Club of Payette was showing signs of progress in preparation for a possible four-day week.

That said, while some day cares had plans in place to meet the possibility of a shorter school week, others did not. 

Gilbert notes that the day cares involved all take anywhere from 0-12 years of age.

Gilbert mentioned that the Boys & Girls Club budget takes place in January. In a previous report, the club’s Chief Executive Director Dana Castellani expressed that the money would not be available to meet a four-day week challenge. 

However, Gilbert said the conversation went further after that. It was realized that if school days are longer and if early-release Wednesdays were done away, the Club’s budget would open up for Fridays. 

“It was a good conversation from the beginning” Gilbert said. 

Concerns were raised by parents about the cost of child care being put on the community, at the district’s most recent parent forum.

“They’re very concerned about putting any extra burden on the community, on the families themselves,” Gilbert said about the added costs.

“I’m hearing that other schools are even talking about it… such as Fruitland, New Plymouth and Weiser,” Trustee Candita Strong said. 

Gilbert talked about a conversation she had recently with superintendents of other school districts along Highway 95, saying the topic being published in the newspaper brought the conversation up in surrounding districts. She also talked about adjusting hourly pay scales to help staff avoid losing pay. 

“I did meet with Steve Phillips from Transportation; One of the concerns from the bus drivers and from [Phillips] … was that their hourly rate puts them into benefits or not benefits,” Gilbert noted.

The district considers employees working more than 21 hours full-time, in determining eligibility for district benefits. 

“While Obama healthcare laws do not require providing benefits for anyone who works less than 30 hours per week, our policy has been to adopt the [Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho] statutes for determination of a full time employee,” wrote Board Clerk Barbara Choate in an email.

The conversation about how to preserve hours is still a work in progress.

Board Chairman Adam Rynearson noted that despite the four-day week being a growing trend elsewhere in Idaho, only once Payette started weighing the possibility did other districts follow suit. 

“It’s a major cultural shift for the district,” Rynearson said. He asked trustees to stay open-minded about a four-day week, as the conversation goes on.

Trustee Andy Kirkendall reminded the Board of its responsibility to continue the conversation with the community.

“I think that we need to get the message out that this isn’t an immediate change,” Kirkendall said.

Trustee Ethan Mittlestadt mentioned that the district could also consider launching a four-day week in Jan. 2021, as opposed to right at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Rynearson also advised the board to weigh this and other ongoing measures carefully, noting that decisions made by the board will likely have a lasting impact.

“The votes we make, those will affect children who aren’t born yet,” Rynearson said.

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