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4-day school week: Blackduck votes for new schedule starting next year

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Beginning in September, Blackduck will cut its school week to four days.

The Blackduck School Board voted 5-1 Monday to try the new schedule for the 2009-10 school year. At the end of the experiment, Superintendent Bob Doetsch said district residents will vote whether to keep the shortened week or go back to five-day school weeks.

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To make up the necessary time in school, Doetsch said the district set up a tentative schedule to lengthen each school day. Currently, the school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.

As the four-day-week timetable stands at this point, he said the elementary students would have class from 8:15 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. and high school students would be in class from 8:25 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. Although the day off is still under discussion, Monday is favored as the off day because of fewer after-school activities on Mondays.

Grant Mistic, the school board member who voted against the change to a four-day school week, cited potential conflicts in extracurricular activities. For example, he said the girls might have an evening game in the gym at a time when the boys need to practice.

Mistic, who is also a coach at the school, also cited academic concerns. He said for spring sports, students already are released early. With the longer days, they would miss more school, he said.

Doetsch said the four-day week has been under discussion and study for months. With federal and state school funding cuts expected, he said the school board had to make a decision that would keep within financial boundaries without cutting any more teachers or staff, eliminating high school electives or increasing elementary school class sizes.

"We try to keep the lower grades under 20," he said. "We have a wonderful school, and we have to keep giving to the kids."

He said he expects the state budget to cut funding for K-12 education by 40 percent. He expects funding from the stimulus package - $400,000 or 5 percent of Blackduck's budget - is a number he's read. But he said he doesn't know what to really expect until the money is in hand.

"The board is being proactive (with the four-day week) and looking for ways to save," Doetsch said.

The savings would come from one day a week less in transportation costs, fuel, cooks, janitors, food and substitutes. Substitute teacher pay would be the biggest savings, he said. Blackduck pays $69,000 in substitute wages. One less day a week would result in savings of $25,000-$30,000 he estimated.

Doetsch said the teachers and staff have been flexible and willing to accept extra duties.

"I don't think there's any one person here who has only one job," he said.

For example, as superintendent, he is also elementary school principal, community education director and Title I, II, IV and V director.

"I've had a lot of people call this morning and say, 'Good. Let's try this,'" he said.

Doetsch said he has studied the 100 schools nationwide that have adopted a four-day week, including MACCRAY, which is the consolidated district for Maynard, Clara City and Raymond, Minn. MACCRAY is in its first year of four-day school weeks and plans to continue with the shortened weeks next school year.

Mistic said he doesn't think the budget is in such desperate straits as to require such a change for Blackduck, nor is he convinced the district constituents are sold on the plan. However, he said he will be interested to see the outcome.

"I hope it works. I'm not going to fight it," he said.

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