02/19/2013 03:20 EST | Updated 04/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Fort McMurray Votes On Four Day School Week

Students take part in a lesson at the school of La Ronce in Ville d'Avray, west of Paris, Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. French children go to school four days a week with about two hours each day for lunch. And they have more vacation than their counterparts almost anywhere in the West. As a candidate, President Francois Hollande promised to change things by adding a fifth day of classes on Wednesday while shortening the school day and education minister, Vincent Peillon, will decide this month how to carry out the reform. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - A school board in northern Alberta is to vote tonight on whether to adopt a four-day week.

The Fort McMurray Public School District came up with the proposal to help save as much as $1 million on things such as busing and support staff.

The plan would increase the average school day by 11 minutes and cancel classes for students on 15 out of 31 Fridays during the school year.

The district's 13 schools would shuffle professional development days and make other scheduling changes to meet the number of instruction hours mandated by the province.

The board held several public meetings and deputy chairman Glenn Cooper says the response was overwhelmingly negative.

Some parents voiced concern about added child-care responsibilities and a drop-off in student learning.

The board pondered a compressed school week for its 5,400 students about two years ago but decided against it. It's now facing a $4.4-million budget deficit due to restructuring of provincial grant money and growth pressures in the oilsands city.

Cooper says he expects the vote will be close among the five trustees.

He wouldn't reveal if he is for or against the idea, but says the plan has to be considered because of finances.

"What we're considering as a district really is not a reduction in services. It's not a change in the quality of service delivery. It's repackaging it to make it more efficient," Cooper said Tuesday.

"And if we didn't do that, I don't think we'd have any alternative except to start looking at what positions we can eliminate and find the savings somewhere else."

The separate school system in Fort McMurray already runs on a four-day week. Some schools in southern Alberta — in the Golden Hills and Palliser school divisions — also operate on a compressed calendar.

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