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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As Spokane Public Schools considers budget, early release Fridays for elementaries seems like a done deal

Stephanie Oakes previously served as librarian for Spokane Public Schools in this April 2019 photo. The district is unlikely to reconsider its decision to release early at elementary schools on Friday, a decision that was tied to layoffs of the district’s librarians this spring in response to a change in the way local schools are funded at the state level and teacher raises approved last year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

With the first day of school less than four weeks away, the Spokane Public Schools budget is still open to revisions.

However, the door is all but closed on the question of restoring the elementary school specialist model and avoiding early release every Friday.

During a work session Wednesday night, board member Deana Brower again raised concerns over a shorter school day – 75 minutes every Friday.

“Seventy-five minutes less, what are we compromising?” Brower asked colleagues and staff.

However, as she was during a board meeting on July 17, Brower represented the only dissent to the early release proposal.

The proposal for shorter Fridays is partly a byproduct of the district’s decision last spring to eliminate librarian positions. That forces elementary school homeroom teachers to give up prep time, which could be restored with the early dismissal.

Brower sees the move as a step backward for the district, which in the fall of 2015 added 30 minutes to the elementary school day. That brought the total in-school hours to 1,075 per year – well above the state minimum of 1,000 hours.

Now that will be dialed back to about 1,050. The school year currently includes 12 early-dismissal days. The change would increase that number to 32, representing a loss of 1,500 minutes, or about 25 hours.

However, district staff contends some of that time will be regained with in-class efficiencies and other measures but hasn’t offered a firm number.

The elementary school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Under the proposed budget it would end at 1:45 p.m. every Friday.

The district has tried to mitigate the hardship by giving families a choice of going home on an early bus, or staying for after-school activities and snacks from 1:45 to 3.

As Brower points out, that’s not the same thing as instructional time.

Brower noted that restoring the specialist model is still on the board’s menu of line items as it weighs what programs and personnel to restore.

“Can we still bring it back?” she asked.

“It would be very difficult,” replied Ramon Alvarez, the district’s executive director of human resources, who noted that hundreds of teachers have now settled into new roles and on new teams.

Going back now “would cause much of that to be undone,” Alvarez said. “There would be a lot of angst and emotion shortly before kids return.”