2/21/2013 11:50:00 AM Public hears the 4-day week provides savings
BY DENISE MARTIN
About a dozen people attended the North Branch School Board’s public hearing last week on whether the Board will support applying to the state to extend no-Monday school weeks.
North Branch is in the final year of an alternative educational calendar authorized for three years. The administration went through a presentation of four-day week pros and cons at last week’s public hearing. There is one more meeting yet, February 28 at 6 p.m. at the learning center (old primary school). Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton said the Board will act soon on the application to extend; as the paperwork must be filed with the MN Dept. of Education by April 15.
Supt. Henton explained that unfortunately North Branch can’t wait for the outcome of session action at the legislature to ultimately predict school funding formulas. North Branch went with no-Mondays to address shortfalls in funding. The district has no local operating levy approved by voters, and pursued four-day weeks as a budget cutting measure.
Director of Personnel and Finance Randi Johnson said the annual $250,000 the district has avoided spending by going to no-Mondays is “...a significant savings in our General Fund.” The district would be facing an extreme financial situation if a five-day week returned at this point. Returning to five days would create transportation costs, boost energy expenses; and negate a number of other four-day savings like reduced use of substitute teachers. According to teacher input the no-Monday weeks haven’t had much of an instructional impact. Testing results have not shown great gains or losses, said Dr. Henton. She said in a recent meet-and-confer session with a teacher union representative the School Board learned 90 percent of teachers feel that “their ability to educate is not affected.”
Henton went on to explain that Minnesota students attend school based on a mandatory number of minutes, and North Branch instructional minutes are the same as everywhere else. Teachers develop their lesson plans based on that-- not on days in school each week. In fact, Sunrise River Elementary School has been chosen as one of 65 “celebration schools” for its academic test score gains, and the school wouldn’t have been honored if the state was seeing achievement decline, Dr. Henton noted.
The state will receive a comprehensive academics analysis in the district’s four-day application-- and the district website also provides detailed information. (See the box on left margin of the web page that says 4-day week, click and look under research.) Supt. Henton also mentioned that the ripple effects of no-Monday weeks are “different for every family.” She has heard daycare costs have increased for some and decreased in other family situations. Some comments are that students are using their Monday to get more hours at a job. Other comments express concerns about lack of structure for area kids. The North Branch Police Dept. reports no increases in Monday unlawful incidents.
Dr. Henton did say that the $500,000 not spent in the last two years would certainly include some “offset” by losing students, who may have enrolled out because of the four-day week. It has not been an often-cited reason however, and she knows of some students who came into North Branch looking for a four-day week. All statistics the district has indicate that enrollment decline began well before four-day was implemented; and enrollment decline is probably an effect of the real estate crash. This year enrollment is even showing a slight rebound.
Also being made available is a web page for public input on the four-day issue offering an electronic survey. There has been a telephone survey done of district residents by Springsted and Associates with results coming for the school board members to consider. (The district asks that if you were phoned that you not also do the on-line survey.) The school board, minus member Jay Falk, didn’t speak during the public hearing, which was moderated by retired district staffer Lora O’Hern. Board Chair Kim Salo offered a brief summation and stressed the financial situation remains similar to what the district was facing when it adopted no-Monday weeks.
There’s one more public hearing on the four-day extension for the North Branch School District that the public is welcome to attend, February 28, at 6 p.m. The meeting is in the Board’s room at the learning center (old primary school) The regular School Board meeting will convene at 7 p.m. In other matters: The North Branch School Board also held a regular business meeting last week following the public hearing. The vote was 5-0 (Falk absent) to approve offering an all day, everyday Kindergarten program-- a decision tentatively supported informally at a work session.
~ The Board received an award for the middle school, which is now rated among the top 25 percent “most efficient” buildings in the nation under Energy Star certification.
~ Middle School Principal Todd Tetzlaff also thanked the Board for purchasing 90 electronic devices Asus “transformers” for the fifth graders. The units are detachable tablets with Android operating systems and the kids use them for social studies curriculum, math and doing paperless spelling practice and tests. A built-in camera allows the students to produce and download to the web their video presentations. The principal said the transformers were funded by not purchasing 250 textbooks, and he said it was a good decision.
~ The attendance policy is delayed until April. There’s a discussion session set for the a work session then.
~ Donations acknowledged by the Board included: Almelund Lions $500 for scholarships, $1,000 from E Lindberg Memorial, $500 scholarship First State Bank of Wyoming; Allina $100 for robotics, almost $4,000 total for schools from BoxTops for Education, $1,200 in Medtronic and WalMart employee matches, St. Jude Medical Foundation $6,000 to robotics