Schools Shut Down to Save on Gas

Rural school districts are switching to a four-day week to cut back on busing.

ByABC News
May 28, 2008, 12:52 PM

May 29, 2008— -- The proverbial "snow day" is getting an update for the modern economic times.

We've all heard of schools closing because of heavy snowfall, but what about high gas prices?

That's just what is happening in some of the nation's most rural and remote school districts. As the price of gas continues to climb, they're shutting their doors one day a week in order to save on heating and busing costs.

The MACCRAY School District in western Minnesota voted earlier this month to switch to a four-day school week beginning in September. The decision to close the schools on Mondays will mean slightly longer hours on the other four days, but it will also mean a three-day weekend, every week.

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"We thought about going to a four-day school week because we needed to save money. We just don't have money and we would like to try to save as many positions as we can in district," said superintendent Greg Schmidt.

The three-town district, about 120 miles west of St. Paul, has 700 students spread out over 354 miles. Some students come from 20 miles away.

The district pays a bus company $650,000 a year to operate 11 rural bus routes and one in town. Switching to a four-day week, Schmidt said, will cut the cost by $65,000.

Gas expenses aren't the only savings the district expects to realize by switching to a four-day school week.

"We'll turn our thermostats down for a three-day weekend instead of a two-day weekend," Schmidt said. "We'll go from 68 degrees to 60 degrees."

That could add up to big savings during those not-so-warm Minnesota winters.

"We also think that there will be more of an opportunity for staff to schedule appointments on Mondays so we won't have to find subs for them which we estimate to be a little over a $10,000 savings," Schmidt said, adding that the district's decision was based purely on budgetary concerns.

And it could be permanent.

"In our situation, with our present budget, assuming things go fairly well, I don't image we would go back to a five-day school week," Schmidt said. "I think there will be more and more schools wanting to do something like this if it works out."

A four-day school week is not a new idea, but with rising gas prices it does become more appealing.