May 14, 2001 11:00 pm

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

WALLOWA The Wallowa School District will be sending a letter to citizens soon explaining why it will be moving to a four-day week for classes in the fall.

Several in an audience of 16 at Monday nights board meeting expressed concern that the four-day week decision was made April 19 when Superintendent Ed Jensen presented the proposal.

Some parents complained that the new school days would be too long for younger children.

Under the plan, instruction days will be extended by 40 minutes, running from 7:45 a.m. to 3:31 p.m. Students and teachers will attend school one week earlier in the fall and one week later in June. Students will receive 56 more hours of instruction per year.

An initial concern of an audience member was whether Fridays would be full work days for teachers.

Instructors will work full days on 16 of the 31 Fridays, Jensen explained.

Some in the audience said the decision had been sprung on them without their input.

The board had been considering the change over the past three years. The matter resurfaced this winter, initially over budget concerns about enrollment which has dropped from 400 in recent years to 315.

Among the budget cuts made was reducing Jensens pay. He will replace the retiring Wallowa County Education Service District superintendent Dave Smyth. Jensen will work both jobs. Both districts will save money by paying Jensen a portion of his salary.

Wallowas budget savings from the new four-day class schedule is expected to be about $18,000, based on current hourly wages and energy costs.

However, in evaluating the possible change, other potential improvements seemed apparent.

One advantage was that a four-day schedule would reduce classroom disruption by scheduling virtually all extra-curricular activities on Fridays.

Pointing to the districts 2001 Oregon Exceptional School Award, several parents, proud of the districts accomplishments, were concerned about the risk of change.

The board unanimously reaffirmed the decision to change to the four-day schedule and to draft a letter explaining reasons for the change. Wallowa will be the first district in Wallowa County going to the four-day schedule, although Enterprise is on a 4-day plan. Joseph is on a five-day plan.

Other Northeast Oregon school districts on the four-day schedule include Cove, Union, North Powder and Pine-Eagle.