Energy prices driving government administrators to consider four-day work weeks

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

The Waynesboro school system is among a growing number of school systems and city and county governments nationwide embracing a four-day work week. But the idea that has been floated in City Hall in Staunton is quickly becoming a “nonstory.”

“I’m not even sure I’m recommending it anymore,” city manager Steve Owen told me this afternoon.

The item regarding a possible move to a four-day work week for most offices in City Hall is still on the agenda for the Staunton City Council work session tomorrow night, Owen said. But after crunching some numbers, “I’m not as big on it as I was a week ago, and even then I wasn’t convinced. But I wanted to stick it out there and see council’s direction. As of this afternoon, it’s a nonstory,” Owen said.

The issue driving the exploration is similar to what pushed the Waynesboro School Board to vote last night to approve a four-day work week for its employees effective next week and running through Aug. 11. Dominion Virginia Power is raising its rates on July 1, putting a hit on Staunton city government to the tune of a projected 14.9 percent increase over what the city government spent on electricity last summer, and a greater hit, in the area of 18 percent, on the Waynesboro school system.

Even with the reduction in the work week in Waynesboro schools from five days to four beginning next week, “If we break even from this compared to where we were last summer, we’d be happy with that,” schools superintendent Robin Crowder told me today.

Four schools will still be open a fifth day each week on a limited basis. There are child-care sites operating at each of the four city elementary schools, and Crowder said the parts of those buildings used for child care will be open as normal throughout the summer.

But cutting off electricity elsewise will save taxpayer money. That was what had motivated Owen to at least give the idea of closing down City Hall a third day each week at least a cursory look.

“When we put it on the agenda a week ago, we hadn’t crunched a lot of numbers, and didn’t know if we should,” Owen said. “It was sort of a chicken-or-egg thing, to see if council was even open to exploring it. I’m very sensitive to the fact that they may have said, Well, no, we don’t want to close the office. Our citizens need to be able to get building permits five days a week, buy their dog tags five days a week or whatever.

“We have begun to crunch numbers, and frankly I’ve not been very impressed with what we can save,” Owen said.

Meanwhile, back over in Waynesboro, Crowder has been directed by the city school board to look into what another, more substantive change to the schedule for the school system might mean down the road. The board has tasked Crowder with examining the pros and cons of a four-day school week.

“One, I think that would create, culturally in this community, some dilemmas around child care,” Crowder said. “But our board has asked me to report back on the pros and cons of that. We have regional programs, and I’m not sure that other folks are going to be ready to do that. But now, you start talking about five or six dollars a gallon of gas, everybody’s going to be scrambling to come up with some cost-savings ideas.”


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