State rejects four-day school weeks

The brief experiment by a handful of Minnesota school districts to switch to four-day school weeks apparently is coming to an end.

Although school district officials maintain shorter weeks save money and are popular with families and teachers, state Department of Education officials aren't all that interested in budget savings or convenience. Their focus is on student achievement.

When state education officials didn't see any increase in test scores in recent years, they concluded the four-day week wasn't helping students and should be ended after another year.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius has told seven of the 11 rural districts with four-day weeks to return to a normal schedule.

Cassellius said students weren't making adequate academic progress because of the shorter weeks. They include the sprawling Lake Superior school district on Minnesota's North Shore, which switched to a four-day week in 2011 to save money, largely on transportation. Busing students into the communities of Silver Bay and Two Harbors only four days a week saved the district $180,000 a year, Superintendent Bill Crandall said.

"Some of our students are on the bus one way for an hour and 45 minutes," he said. "We are a large school district so do we have a lot of transportation expenses."

Crandall said the four-day schedule also cut energy and food service costs, bringing the total savings to $225,000 a year. The four-day week is widely embraced by the community, giving students a three-day weekend, and families and teachers a regular day off for doctor and dentist appointments, he said.

The state Department of Education will allow the district one more year of the four-day schedule, requiring it to return to five days in the 2015-2016 school year.

"It's an example of how Minnesotans are creative when faced with challenges," department spokesperson Josh Collins said. "But I think what it comes down to is what's in the best interest of students and learning and in that regard we're just not seeing that the four-day week was something that provided a benefit to children."

In Lake Superior, recent increases in education funding from the state will cover most but not all of the costs of returning to a five day week. Crandall said the district may also need to consider some program or staff cuts.

"We going to need to really tighten our belts and take a look at all our different areas and see where we can least affect our students through the budget process in order to maintain as much as we can," he said.

One district, North Branch, is making the move back to a five-day week on its own this fall.

Two districts -- Blackduck and Warroad -- have four-day schedules that come up for a renewal decision next year. A similar decision will be made for the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City district in 2016.

Status of Minnesota districts with four day weeks

Five districts have been approved for a transitional year and will go back to a five-day week by 2015-16:

•Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Public Schools

•Lake Superior Public Schools

•Ogilvie Public Schools

•Maynard-Clara City-Raymond Public Schools

•Pelican Rapids Public Schools

Two districts will go back to five-day week in 2014-15:

•Clearbrook-Gonvick Public Schools

•Onamia Public Schools

One district did not apply for renewal:

•North Branch will return to a five day week in 2014-2015.

Two districts are up for renewal next year:

•Blackduck (previously approved through July 1, 2015)

•Warroad (previously approved through July 1, 2015)

One district is up for renewal in 2016:

•Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, approved through July 1, 2016

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