Guest Commentary: Diligence made on 4-day ideaThe incomplete submission for permission to apply a four-day school in the coming year, as described in the Minnesota Department of Education’s letter, appears to have resulted from an oversight or faulty interpretation by the district.
By: Leo Babeu, Lake Superior School District Board chariman, Lake County News Chronicle
The incomplete submission for permission to apply a four-day school in the coming year, as described in the Minnesota Department of Education’s letter, appears to have resulted from an oversight or faulty interpretation by the district. We underestimated the level of detailed documentation the Department needed to verify the adequacy of the district’s planning and our process for community input preceding the submission of the Flexible Learning Year application.
I’d urge fair-minded critics of the district’s efforts to save educational programs not to indulge in harsh judgment. This decision appears to be based on errors of omission on the application form rather than a failure of the district’s effort to engage its staff and stakeholders in thoughtful and open minded consideration of the four-day school week.
At the request of the board, the administration and a group of teachers dug into background research on the four-day school option last summer and fall. Community outreach to our stakeholders and discussion about the issues and practical details of a four-day week continued through the winter and spring. We also proposed an operating levy during this same period, fulfilling our commitment to pursue additional local funding of the system that would be sufficient to maintain a five-day schedule.
I believe that we as a board clearly identified the objectives behind implementation of the four-day schedule. We thoroughly reviewed and then accepted the administration’s projected savings (in specific expense categories) that are likely to be achieved in four-day operations.
As the News-Chronicle’s own coverage documented, the district facilitated public discussions of the four-day proposal at three separate, well-advertised, and well-attended meetings. At these meetings, the four-day school week, its purpose and its practical details were the primary focus of the presentation and discussion.
We received and responded to a wide range of public input and questions. The logistical concerns with the four-day school week were discussed with staff over the course of the winter and spring, and their input was incorporated into the implementation plan.
Contract issues were successfully addressed with employee units whose members would be affected by the four-day work week. I am confident that if we could re-submit the detailed documentation for these relevant issues of concern, the Minnesota Department of Education would find our Flexible Learning Year application worthy of approval.
The buck stops on this with the superintendent and ultimately with the board. I am very disappointed and feel great responsibility for this frustrating outcome. I believe the board will need to understand better the consequences of the denial decision and the steps now required to pursue the four-day option.
We will work hard to take into account the best interests of the students and community as we grapple with the decision’s ramifications for the immediate school year’s budget and the looming budget shortfalls for the years that follow.
These are my opinions, based on my reading of the decision letter. Please realize they may not represent those of the other members of the board or the administration.