Board: 4-day still a goAfter receiving a rejection of its application for a four-day week, Lake Superior School District officials are still confident its application will eventually be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education this fall after meeting Thursday to discuss it.
After receiving a rejection of its application for a four-day week, Lake Superior School District officials are still confident its application will eventually be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education this fall after meeting Thursday to discuss it. A revised application was to be sent to the state this week.
The board was so confident it approved a preliminary budget for next school year under the assumption that a four-day week will be approved.
Board member Cyndi Ryder said the district should move forward as if the “state is going to come to its senses.”
“We’re all accountable,” said Leo Babeu, school board chair this week. He thought this district’s submission was held to a different standard of documentation than others that have been submitted to the department.
Babeu hasn’t seen what other districts have submitted and how they were graded but believed Superintendent Phil Minkkinen followed directives as they did.
“Phil was doing what other colleagues [did],” Babeu said. He theorized there are more submissions now then ever before and grades may not be standardized for each application.
Bill Walsh, communications director for the Department of Education said all applications for Flexible Learning Year Programs, which includes four-day weeks, are looked at through the same standards.
“The applications are reviewed by a team of people from the School Improvement and Agency Finance Divisions and are ultimately reviewed by the commissioner,” Walsh said. “This means that generally five people are reviewing the application, but it may include additional people at MDE if the district is participating in education initiatives that have adjacencies.”
The district holds responsibility for the unclear application.
“There’s no blame, but the district is accountable,” Babeu said.
“You second guess … but [I’m] not blaming anyone. We’re responsible for this. We’re working hard at submitting everything they want to see.”
At the meeting Thursday, board members did not reflect on faults the district may have made when it came to the application and focused what is being done to satisfy those requirements.
Losing the projected four-day week savings of $250,000 could mean employees in the district would receive a reduced number of hours, Minkkinen said. There would probably be no teacher cuts.
Minkkinen said the district now has enough application information to submit to “bury a cow” and is sure it will get through this time. He said they already had the documents MDE was looking for before there application was in.
The new application should fill holes the MDE found, including specific dollar amounts for cost savings; an explanation of what the district learned about the advantages and disadvantages about the four-day week; what existing four-day models were researched; and how and when community members and parents were informed of the four-day model.
According to the district’s Flexible Learning Year Application Review, “Lake Superior states that public meetings were held Feb. 23 in Two Harbors, March 1 in Two Harbors and March 8 in Silver Bay. MDE is unclear whether these meetings related specifically to exploration of a four-day week or were, rather, meetings held to discuss an operating referendum that later failed to pass.”
One public notice ran in the Feb. 19 issue of the News-Chronicle specific to the three meetings and discussion of the “four-day” proposal.
The MDE is also looking for information regarding who was at the meetings and wants copies of what information was passed along to attendees.
The MDE wants the district to set benchmarks asking the question “How will Lake Superior know if an academic or budgetary gain was ‘not enough’ or successful?” The MDE said the district’s application did not set those benchmarks.
The MDE is looking for documentation that the district actually voted to go to a four-day week through meeting minutes or transcripts as well.
According to preliminary budget reports, which were passed by the district Thursday, it is estimated to have $20,197,820 in revenues with $20,609,113 in expenses for the 2010-11 school year. The revenue budget for this year is actually about $1.5 million less than last years while expenditures are about $1.6 million less.
Some of the reasons for a decrease in expenditures during the 2010-11 budget is because less wages and benefits, if the district were to go to a four-day week. The projected cost of benefits could go down as the district was using a formula of a maximum of a 12 percent increase.
The school board also approved borrowing $2.8 million to help next year through the sale of aid anticipation certificates. Last year, the board approved a resolution authorizing the sale of $4,625,000 in aid certificates.
Basically, it will borrow money against anticipated state aid to keep the district’s cash flow going. The funds will also help the district if funds payments are delayed again. The district has received $647,559 in state payments that were delayed since March.