Letter to the editor: Closer look at the 4-day school week
By: Mark Broin, Larsmont, Lake County News Chronicle
Lake Superior Independent School District 381 will be holding three state-required meetings seeking public and community input on the four-day school week. This input will have a significant impact on whether or not the four-day week might be approved for two more years.
There are three fundamental questions that must be addressed when judging the success or failure of the four-day program:
(1) Did the school district show an adequate and responsible improvement in its financial position;
(2) Was student performance maintained or improved; and
(3) Have student families been adversely impacted by the shorter week?
After a May 2010 referendum was defeated, the district indicated it was facing roughly $260,000 in annual deficits if it were not allowed to implement a four-day week. Savings from the change were to be used to offset the need for layoffs, increases in benefit cost sharing and other program cuts. However, instead of saving some $520,000, by 2012 the district was looking at a possible deficit of more than $1 million.
Answers to the following questions should provide enough information for families, voters and the state to decide if the district should be allowed to continue the four-day program
Did the district achieve any of its projected savings? If not, why?
Where did any savings come from and where did the money go?
What were the total budgets each school year during the implementation, as compared to the year prior to the implementation?
During the two-year period, the district received money from the state representing its share of a federal pot of education monies. How much money was received and where was that money spent?
During the two-year period, did the district borrow any money to cover any operating deficit? Was the cost assessed against the taxpayers?
Will the district use education shift monies, once paid to the district, to pay down loans?
Were salaries and/or benefit costs increased over the two years and, if so, by how much in total dollars each year?
During the implementation period, did “non-core” oriented programs receive any funding increases equal to or beyond that provided “core” reading, writing, and basic mathematics programs?
What key financial operating areas are stronger financially and which are weaker? Has the condition of the district’s balance sheet improved or weakened?
Which changes in the methodology for delivering education instruction programs to students have been positive and which have been negative.
How have students overall, and at each school and grade level, performed annually under Minnesota/Federal standardized testing since the year prior to implementation of the four-day week?
How have high school students performed annually on the SAT, ACT and College Board tests since the year prior to implementation of the four day week?
What are the graduation rates, as compared to the years prior to the implementation of the four day week?
How do attendance records compare versus the year prior to the implementation of the four day week?
Has the frequency of free school lunch program recipients increased during the term of the four-day week?
What studies exist regarding four-day school weeks, and other forms of shortened school weeks, regarding pros and cons of student performance and financial operating issues?
Is ISD 381’s experience consistent with the results of these studies?
What is the current position of the administration and the school board regarding continuation of the four-day week?
What specific financial justifications and specific education outcome measurements support the direction the administration and school board wish to pursue?
What alternative strategies is the school board considering?