Faced with budget deficits and cuts, New Ulm and Sleepy Eye school districts are both eyeing four-day school weeks.
Both districts will hold the second of three public hearings Wednesday night regarding the possibility, which calls for extended school days Tuesday through Friday, with students off Saturday through Monday. (Although the New Ulm calendar would still include some five-day weeks surrounding state testing times, for example.)
The shortened week would save both districts money on such things as utilities, maintenance, bus service, substitutes, and clerical and paraprofessional staffing. The fifth day would still be a work day for teachers. The potential savings for New Ulm’s district are about $100,000. For Sleepy Eye, it’s about $80,000.
“Is the savings enough? ... No, it’s not enough,” said Sleepy Eye Supt. John Cselovszki. “It’s not a solve-all situation.”
The New Ulm district is faced with making $1 million to $1.3 million in cuts to next year’s budget after last November’s levy was voted down by the public. That comes after $1 million in cuts already were made. New Ulm Supt. Harold Remme said the district hasn’t decided yet where those cuts will come from.
A referendum also failed last fall in Sleepy Eye, after the district made $850,000 in cuts during the past three years. Expenses are growing faster than revenues each year, and Sleepy Eye anticipates a little less than a $500,000 deficit during the 2015-16 school year.
Remme said research of previous districts that went to a four-day schedule reported neutral or positive impacts on student achievement. Another benefit included decreased absences.
About 50 people showed up to the first public meeting on the issue in New Ulm. About 110 people attended in Sleepy Eye.
“We were so pleased with that,” Cselovszki said. “People came to listen. (It showed) people are in favor of moving forward.”
Public concerns include child care issues on the student off-day and focus and fatigue of younger students with elongated school days — expected to be extended by 25 to 30 minutes in New Ulm and by more than an hour in Sleepy Eye. But both superintendents say the longer days would result in increased productivity when students are in school.
“The unique part about our plan is that our plan has teachers reporting on the off day and doing staff preparation kinds of things for our professional learning community, realigning of curriculum .... and a whole bunch of other things that will lead to improved instruction,” Remme said.
Both plans need approval by the Department of Education. If approved, the plans would be in place for one to three years and under observation. The four-day school week would go into effect in the fall.
Cselovszki said the Sleepy Eye school board will put the issue to a vote at the 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 meeting. Remme said the board could vote in New Ulm at the Feb. 9 meeting, but it’s too early to pinpoint the date definitively.
The next Sleepy Eye public meeting is 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Sleepy Eye High School. The third and final meeting is 6-8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30. New Ulm’s next meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday, with the final meeting 7 p.m. Jan. 31, both in the district board room