Chattooga County schools on Tuesday will launch a new four-day school week calendar narrowly approved by a divided school board last month.
Proponents say the move will save the six-school system money, as much as $260,000 this year, but others say the four-day week - which eliminates Monday classes - makes school days too long for younger children and creates child care problems for some parents.
Board members approved the new schedule in a 3-2 vote.
"I just didn't think we had enough information on a four-day week," said school board Chairman William Anderson, one of two board members who opposed the change. "We have a lot of little kids. That long of a day's going to be rough on them."
Board member Dot Johnson, the other no vote, could not be reached for comment.
Anderson said he also doesn't like that the new schedule financially hurts the system's lowest-paid employees and there's no guarantee how successful it will be at saving money.
"I guess we'll have to live with it, at least for a year," he said. "It may work out good, I hope it does, but I've got concerns."
Board member and four-day week supporter Eddie Elsberry said the county and its school system are struggling with finances and the schedule switch was no easy decision.
The four-day week allows the system to keep more teachers on its rolls to maintain as low a student/teacher ratio as possible and should cut expenses significantly, Elsberry said.
There are drawbacks, he said. He likes that savings and that longer days allow more time for extended classes such as science labs, but Monday child care is a problem for some families, he said.
Superintendent Dwight Pullen said the four-day week idea has left him somewhat "on the fence," but a $2 million shortfall in state funding for 2010-11 forces the issue for a school system with an annual budget of about $20 million.
Pullen said $260,000 in savings is significant because the system already has eliminated 21 staff positions and a property tax increase to help balance the budget could be coming.
The staff is committed to making the four-day week work, he said.
"We had a lot of members of the community (who were) not necessarily in favor of it, or at least skeptical," he said.
Pullen said the intention of the calendar switch is to save money in utilities, diesel fuel and paraprofessional salaries, but officials "were concerned all along" about the impact on younger students.
Officials in Peach County, Ga., who have a year of experience with the four-day schedule, told him that students and employee attendance went up, middle and high school discipline problems went down and test scores increased, Pullen said.
Peach County spokeswoman Sara Mason said the schedule saved about $214,000 in the first half of the year. She said one surprise was the savings on substitute teacher pay, which comes only from local money, thanks to better teacher attendance.
Peach officials said the main hurdle was making sure parents understood how the schedule worked.
April Davenport, whose son attends Summerville Elementary, said parents who can will be able to spend an extra day a week with their children, and children will benefit from a longer weekend.
"I think it will be fine," she said.
Lauren Mason works at Kid's Express Learning Center in Summerville, where the four-day week forced a reconfiguration of the center's layout and elimination of its nursery. The small center's three rooms will be modified for the influx of Monday's schoolchildren who will range in age from 4 to about 8, she said.
"We're modifying it so we can accommodate because the groups have to be separated according to age to meet state guidelines," said Mason, a mother of two children who won't be affected by the calendar change this year.
As a parent, though, she has concerns about Chattooga's new school schedule.
* Savings: $260,000 or more, estimated
* Hours: 7:45 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.*
* Hours will vary slightly at elementary and middle school because of bus schedules.
Source: Chattooga County School District
* System: Chattooga County School District
* Schools: Lyerly Elementary, Menlo Elementary, Summerville Elementary, Leroy Massey Elementary, Summerville Middle and Chattooga County High
* Students: 2,700, approximate
* Teachers: 245
* Superintendent: Dwight Pullen
Source: Chattooga County School District
"It may turn out great," she said. "But my concern is for the younger children who have to spend that much time (at school). That's a long day for a group of kids that age."
Chattooga County High School principal Jim Lenderman said there are benefits beyond money savings, though he regrets the pay cut paraprofessionals such as cafeteria workers and bus drivers will take.
Lenderman said he expects fewer teacher and student absences because Mondays can be used for appointments and errands that might otherwise cause them to miss a day.
And the student day is not much longer than before, he said.
"We're only going five minutes longer in the morning and 32 minutes longer in the afternoon," he said.
The longer teacher day means it's easier to provide after-school tutoring, he said.
Chattooga County High freshman Stephanie Brock said the calendar changes will take some getting use to.
"It's going to be different because I'm used to getting up to go to school on Mondays," said Stephanie, 14.
But she thinks she'll like the extended weekend to "take it easy," she said.
Stephanie said she'll now get out of school about the same time she got home last year. But the four-day week will be better because students "won't dread school as much," she said.
Grandmother Connie Arnold, a hair stylist at J&Js Barber Shop in Summerville, said she'll like the new schedule because she's the designated baby sitter for her five grandchildren.
Four of the five are county school students, Arnold said.
"Monday's my off day, and I'll be the one taking care of them," she said cheerily.