State nixes 4-day schoolThe Lake Superior School District has been told by the Minnesota Department of Education and Commissioner Alice Seagren that it has rejected the application for permission to implement a four-day school week schedule beginning in the fall.
The Lake Superior School District has been told by the Minnesota Department of Education and Commissioner Alice Seagren that it has rejected the application for permission to implement a four-day school week schedule beginning in the fall.
The department cites seven areas of “concern” in the application that lacked sufficient information to approve the change. According to the letter, the district will have to submit a “strengthened application” for review and, if approved, the four-day week could be implemented in a “future year.”
But MDE Communications Director Bill Walsh said there remains some “give and take” in the process and the district still has a shot at receiving approval by the fall. “It’s an uphill battle,” though, he warned.
Superintendent Phil Minkkinen was clearly stunned by the news Monday. He was busy with personnel issues and hadn’t had much time to pore over the exact holes in the application the MDE outlined. “Clearly I didn’t provide something they were expecting,” he said.
Minkkinen sent an immediate response to the state and by late Tuesday the MDE replied with a more detailed report on what it found flawed in the application. Walsh said there is no deadline set for the district to meet the application requirements but “time is of the essence” in order to get permission for a four-day week schedule this fall.
Minkkinen said a denial would “quickly” move the district toward Statutory Operating Debt. It was expected the four-day week would save the district as much as $250,000 a year, mostly in transportation costs. “This puts us in serious trouble instantly,” Minkkinen said of district finances and the possible denial. “We’re going broke faster now.”
The preliminary 2010-11 district budget shows revenues at about $20.2 million while expenditures are projected at $20.6 million, creating a deficit of $400,000. The district has trimmed nearly $1.5 million from the current budget, most of it because it plans to spend no money in items related to school construction improvements.
Walsh said approving a four-day week is “not an easy yes.” He said the state statute regarding the change is specific and MDE follows it closely. A denial letter is not a rarity, he said.
The Lake Superior letter was one of two denials sent out late last week.
Minkkinen said he’s confused about what details the state wants and frustrated after spending a year working on the four-day proposal. He said the department apparently wants more documentation and research on four-day weeks, though Minkkinen said such work is easily available for state officials to find.
The denial letter also states that the district did not include a “specific estimated dollar savings” in the application and instead made broad statements “about approximate percentage savings in all areas.”
It was one of the points that Minkkinen wanted more explanation from the MDE.
School Board President Leo Babeu had not talked to state or district officials but was prepared to discuss the application at the regular school board meeting Thursday. He wrote a response to the denial for today’s News-Chronicle Opinion page.
Mark Broin, a district resident who urged voters in an advertising and online campaign to reject any levy increases via the referendum vote last month, protested the school board’s decision to go forward with the four-day week proposal after the failed levy vote. Broin said there hadn’t been sufficient public discussion on the issue and little proof of the cost savings or impact on the community.
Broin sent a letter to the school board and state last week detailing his objections. He is running for Lake County Commissioner and will be involved in the primary for incumbent Paul Bergman’s District 4 seat.
Broin told the state that the district did an inadequate job of informing the public about the four-day week proposal, which requires specific meeting notices and minutes.
The MDE wondered whether the district held meetings specific to the four-day week or tacked them on to discussions about increasing the operating levy. “No photocopies of meeting notices, minutes, transcripts or copies of news coverage of these meetings were included with the application.”
The application lacked evidence of a fully collaborative process, the letter reads, that “involved the many people impacted, including the diversity of families represented, employees and their bargaining units, and other community stakeholders.”