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LSSD moves forward with 4-day week application

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After a long discussion at a workshop meeting Tuesday, the Lake Superior School District board decided with a 4-3 vote to move forward with reapplying for the four-day school week.

The district changed to a four-day week in 2011 as a cost-saving measure. Officials received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Education last May that said the district would have to go back to a traditional five-day week beginning in the 2015-16 school year because the state believes a five-day week better meets the academic needs of students. Though the state strongly implied that it would not approve another year of four-day school weeks, Minnesota state statutes say that a school district can apply every year for an alternative school calendar such as the four-day week. The application is due to the state by April 15.

At Tuesday's workshop, School Board members and administration heard data regarding student test scores as well as financial savings in the past four years, during which the district was operating under the four-day week. The district initially had hoped to save about $250,000 a year by going to the four-day week, but the data presented at the meeting showed the district saved, on average, about $168,000 a year. The most that was saved in any one year was $190,107 in fiscal year 2012.

By switching to the four-day week, the district saved the most money in electricity and sewer and water. Every year, the district was saving over $10,000 a year on electricity in all three school buildings and the bus garages combined. The water and sewer saving were even more some years — up to $34,821 in FY14.

The students' scores on the state test proved to be inconsistent due to changes in the test over the years. But parents at the meeting shared anecdotal evidence that the four-day week is better for their kids. One of those parents was Gene Walsh.

"My kids have improved so much since going to the four-day week," he said. "Parents who say that they don't like it don't because of personal reason, like having to pay for extra child care. I'm for it and I think it's too early to dismiss it."

Clark Bartelt was another parent who spoke up at the meeting in favor of the four-day school week. Bartelt said his son came from a five-day school week in Wisconsin to the LSSD four-day week, and his son has improved greatly.

"The other thing that I wanted to address, and I can talk of my own situation, but my son lives in a single-parent home," Bartelt said. "He gets to visit his mom a couple weekends a month down in the cities, and you know what, that three-day weekend mean a lot to him because he gets to see his mom a little bit more."

All of the teachers and parents that spoke out at the meeting in favor of the four-day week said that even though the savings have not been as large as originally hoped, $168,000 still is a lot of money that could go toward curriculum updates in the district.

Board member Dwight Moe said he was against the four-day week because the School Board voted to raise their levy under special litigation to help offset the cost of going back to the five-day week next school year.

"I feel like we're lying to the taxpayer because we said we were raising the levy because we had to go back to the five-day week," Moe said. "We should have had this conversation before we raised the levy."

His other concern was that the students aren't getting the same about of instructional time in the four-day week that they did in the five-day week, but Superintendent Bill Crandall assured him and the rest of the board that the instructional time the students are receiving in the four-day week is exactly the same amount they received in during the five-day week.

Board members Tom Burns and Cyndi Ryder both spoke in favor of at least trying to apply for the four-day week, because if it's approved by the state, then the extra money saved could go toward updating technology and outdated curriculum.

During the meeting, the board also heard the results of the a survey given to parent to get their opinion on the four-day week. The survey showed 84 percent of the nearly 500 parents who responded said they would support the district staying with the four-day week.

The school board approved a motion in a 4-3 vote to reapply for the four-day school week. The nay votes were cast by board members Moe, Paul Borg and Shannon Fabini.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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