1/17/2013 9:14:00 AM Board struggles with 4-day week surveying logistics
BY DENISE MARTIN
Having the right information on which to base a major decision is sometimes as important as the decision itself...and the North Branch School Board last week struggled to come to terms with how to gather the best information on whether the district will continue four-day school weeks. North Branch is in its final year of a three-year state-approved no-Monday week. The district implemented longer school days, eliminating Mondays, to save money. Significant savings have been realized through not running buses, not mobilizing staff, energy use is down and expenses are reduced in many other budget areas.
The Board was told by the superintendent that an application to extend four-day weeks must be approved by the Commissioner of the state Dept. of Education within weeks. Supt. Dr. Deb Henton knew of two other Minnesota districts who definitely plan to extend their four-day schedule. Supt. Henton was hoping to have a decision on the four-day extension by the February Board session. There must be a School Board vote included in the state application. There’s a Board workshop January 24 and Henton wants to have a local survey format ready for Board members to accept then, so surveying can commence. Who will be surveyed was the issue. Don Lifto, who oversees public opinion polling through Springsted and Associates, supplied Henton a list of survey options that ranged from $6,000 to $12,000. Some would utilize random sampling from registered voter lists, student family data and/or Chamber of Commerce contact info. Survey numbers ranged from 100 to 300.
As a January rain/sleet mix accumulated outside that evening-- the school board members debated for an hour which combination of phone/website polling should be used. Should the sampling include only district families, or should citizens with no children enrolled be contacted? A couple Board members advocated for local business owners to also be asked their opinion of no-Monday school weeks. Newly-seated Board member Tim MacMillan felt the extra expense to get the broadest survey sampling was justified; because it would more accurately show the community perspective. Jay Falk added that the four-day week “affects more people in town than just school kids.” Randy Westby also said student-less households shouldn’t be “excluded” and felt just surveying parents of students “isolated” too many other families, especially those with pre-schoolers that the district really wants to see enroll.
Board Chair Kim Salo initially preferred surveying only parents “who are living the four day week.” But, after much discussion she said she’d support a combination “to move this thing along” and asked for a consensus. Henton was directed to instruct Springsted & Assoc. to develop a telephone survey for 300 random citizens from the voter registration list, and offer a web-based survey. To get a scientific independent read on the four-day week, the actual questions are being written by Lifto and Springsted based on their surveying expertise. The survey product should be ready Jan. 24 for Board review and phone calls could start by the end of this month. In open forum a parent told the Board a petition has been circulated and has 250 signatures on it so far, requesting North Branch revise the district attendance policy. (Press story December 20.) Amy Reider said she’s also been involved with the citizen advisory committee working on policies. A lot of people want to stress the need for changing the attendance policy. The wage for school board officers and meeting payments for members remains unchanged. The chair gets $750 annually, vice chair $250 and clerk and treasurer $150 in addition to $40 per meeting or $115 for duty that goes four hours or longer.
The chair, vice chair and clerk remain Salol, Ekstrom and Falk. MacMillan was put into John White’s former post as treasurer. Newly-seated member Linda Heidelberger asked if the Board might be allowed to attend sports and other events for free, in lieu of any pay increase, and learned that Board members already are admitted at no charge if they can show their district identification. The Board officially acknowledged $20,485 in donations for: Renting a keyboard for the musical ($225) from activity revenues and also from activities accounts $6,251 for football coaches and $2,083 volleyball coach payroll; for hockey helmets $1,400 from the local Blue Line Club; Lake State Credit Union community grant of $1,000 for choir robes; Lions of North Branch $1,500 for scholarships; Give to the Max Day generated about $3,000, MSHL Foundation $3,504 for athletic and activity scholarships; the Children’s Hospital Research Institute $100, and matching gifts through Alerus and Wells Fargo (employees) for $322.