Four-Day Apache Junction School Week Prompts Volunteers To Take Action
Kids at the Apache Junction Unified School District have a three-day weekend every week. The district switched to a four-day school week this year because of budget cuts and failed voter overrides.
This new format has fueled community members to take action to get the district the money it needs.
Jacqueline Smith and nine volunteers are spread out over half of the tables at a local restaurant on their cellphones.
“Your yes vote would be greatly appreciated,” Smith tells a voter over the phone.
She is a member of the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon Save Our Schools group. They get together every Wednesday night to call voters. The campaign has drawn recent grads, parents and retirees together. Their goal is to convince voters to support the override, which would give schools a much needed $3.5 million next year.
“It doesn’t matter if you have kids in school or not,” volunteer Holly Stuber said. “You still need to support public education.”
She doesn’t have any children in the district, but she believes every kid deserves access to a good public education. She talks to some older voters don’t want the tax increase.
“They should realize that someone paid for their education, taxpayers wherever they lived,” She said.
The group’s nearly 50 volunteers also knock on doors, send out mailers and put up street signs. Over the past eight years four overrides have been voted down.
Volunteer David Coward said the difference this time is the strategy.
“We have to multiple layers and number of contacts to get people out to vote,” said Coward.
The major impetus behind this override is the four-day week. The district switched to the shorter schedule this year to save money on transportation, utilities and food service. This November, 20 percent of Arizona districts will have elections for voter approved spending increases.
“Overrides aren’t nice to haves, they are must haves,” Apache Junction Unified School District Superintendent Chad Wilson said.
Wilson said with the state education cuts over the past several years, telling a school district to operate within its budget is like saying, “Pay your bills that cost what they cost in 2016 off of what you were making in 1987.”
The recession hit the Apache Junction district hard. Since 2008 it has closed three schools, cut staff, increased class sizes, added athletic fees and had salary freezes. The trouble with the four-day week is balancing teacher retention with loss of students. More than 40 districts statewide have gone to four-day school week. But most of those are in rural areas.
“We aren’t urban, but we compete against urban districts for teachers and for students and for programs,” Wilson said.
For each student who leaves, it means fewer state dollars because schools get funded on a per-pupil calculation. It’s a little more than month into school, but Wilson expects several hundred students to leave go to other schools — which is a lot for a district of 4,500 student.
Christine Kalamaras took her three kids to the neighboring Mesa district.
“I work, my husband works we work together and we can’t afford a four day week and we can’t afford the daycare," Kalamaras said.
The school board voted to close her kids’ elementary school closed at the end of last school year as another way to consolidate costs. But the four-day week was the reason they left the district.
“It’s our fault too because we didn’t vote,” Kalamras said. “Whoever didn’t go vote, didn’t vote and it’s our fault, it is our fault too.”
And that’s something Save our Schools volunteer Jacqueline Smith hopes to change with these calls.
“I just hope that when they start to mark the ballot that they’ll remember talking to us,” Smith said. “If they are leaning or are undecided that they’ll remember the conversation and hopefully vote yes.”
If the override passes, it would cost the average homeowner in Apache Junction an extra $9 dollars a month. Along with the extra money comes the possibility of returning to a five-day school week.