Residents voice concerns over four-day school week

Published 7:45 am Friday, March 12, 2010

The Southland community weighed in this week on the school district’s exploration of a four-day school week.

The district has been studying the idea for months as a way to cut costs, and this week residents voiced concerns on how nixing one day per week could effect homework, curriculum, fatigue of teachers and students and after-school activities.

“I’m not here to sell this idea to you,” superintendent Steve Sallee said at the beginning of a community meeting in Dexter Thursday evening. “This is just one option, one idea, and we are looking at all options right now.”

Southland currently has a $2 million fund balance, but is bracing for declining enrollment and cuts in state funding.

Cutting one day would save the district money on transportation, substitute teachers, electricity, fuel, water and sewer and payroll. An exact figure of savings had not been calculated before Thursday’s meeting.

Last month, the district’s teachers union voted unanimously to continue research to see whether a four-day week would work in Southland, which serves the towns of Adams, Rose Creek, Taopi, Dexter and Elkton.

Parents and administrators at the meeting Thursday were less certain.

Amanda Wiste, who has a child in kindergarten and two children that are not yet school-age, questioned whether a sufficient curriculum can fit into a four-day schedule.

A group of middle and high school teachers that are spearheading the initiative decided Monday would be the day off. A sample schedule presented at the meeting adds 10 minutes to each class period Tuesday through Friday, making the school day last from 8:05 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“With just 10 extra minutes for each subject each day, can you really make up for an entire day of missed lessons?” Wiste asked.

Paula Mortenson, a high school science teacher, thought the schedule would bode well at least for her course.

“I think this is a very viable option, though it’s not perfect,” she said. “In my class, we would now be able to get through our projects in one class period.”

Mortenson also noted that studies show students are absent less in four-day schools, and this would mean she and her students could be more efficient — spending less time catching up.

Other parents worried that student athletes would not have enough time to do their homework or rest if they were released from school so late.

One parent said he would be forced to pay $1,200 a year in daycare costs if school were closed Mondays, and that he would rather open enroll his kids in Grand Meadow schools.

Southland would not be the first Minnesota school to opt for a four-day week in efforts to trim spending.

MACCRAY, which stands for Maynard, Clara City and Raymond, began a four-day week last school year in their west-central Minnesota district. The Blackduck and Warroad districts in northern Minnesota and the Ogilvie district in the central part of the state began a four-day week this year.

Southland elementary principal Randy Juhl said that he would have to see an in-depth study and visit these schools himself before getting behind the idea.

“I am most concerned about students in kindergarten, first and second grades,” he said. “I have a lot of concerns and questions right now.”

Juhl, and many parents in attendance, worried the longer school days might be too hard on elementary students.

The school board will discuss whether to continue pursuing a four-day week at their meeting Monday.

“In my opinion, this is not something that we are ready to do next fall,” Sallee said. “If we pursue this, I’d like to see a task force developed so that we can really investigate the idea and then decide what would be in the interest of our students.”