Gas prices rise; school days decrease

Over the last few weeks, gas prices have increased, though the rise slowed with the introduction of millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and other donor nations. Regardless, communities across the nation are beginning to feel the pressure that higher gas prices are exerting.
These woes have caused some people to think up of ways to save money. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the superintendent of the Brownsville Area School District, Lawrence L. Golembiewski, has come up with an idea that he says could save his district up to $1.2 million a year. His plan is to shorten the school week to four days and make each school day longer for his district, which lies about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh.

The superintendent has contacted the state Department of Education for permission to implement the plan. Golembiewski has said that the reason for the plan is a matter of dollars and cents, arguing that the increase in fuel prices has also increased the prices of other services and that Hurricane Katrina only made things worse. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Golembiewski as saying that by going to a four-day week, the school district could cut down costs for transportation, utilities, and food costs, potentially saving up to 20 percent of the district?s operating budget.

This is the first request of its kind in the history of Pennsylvania. State education officials have indicated that all school districts in Pennsylvania use the conventional five-day school week. According to the Tribune-Review, Mike Storm, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said, ?The governor and the Department of Education both understand and are also concerned about the energy costs for the school districts, but at this stage the four-day school week is something that?s simply under consideration and is being looked at.?

State law requires that school districts provide at least 180 days of school every year. However, schools are permitted to count that in hours, with Department of Education permission. To meet that requirement, Golembiewski proposed increasing each school day by one hour and 45 minutes.

The only possible hurdles to overcome would be that of possible contractual difficulties with the teaching union. The Post-Gazette reported that Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said, ?As far as contractual obligations, our view would be that the local association?s current collective bargaining agreement would still be binding.... Any change in the school calendar that affects hours of employment would have to be negotiated with the union.?

Pittsburgh has for the last several years had budgetary difficulties, raising the question of whether or not the city would need to take such drastic action. When questioned on the topic, Pittsburgh superintendent Mark Roosevelt said, ?No, Pittsburgh will not go to such a plan unless our fiscal situation deteriorated to a point where it was an absolute necessity. And even then I am not sure. Why? Because we need much more time on learning and if we are able to expand the school day then we will use it to expand our students work, not cut off a day.? Roosevelt added, ?What would parents do with their children on the off day??

CMU officials were not available for comment on whether or not these changes could extend to the University.

As of press time, the state is still reviewing the legality of Golembiewski?s proposal.