Majority OK with short week
A survey of parents, students and local business owners showed those returning the questionnaires generally favored the four-day week at Blackduck schools during the current year. This week savings from the change were shown to be upwards of $125,000.
At a meeting Monday night, those attending generally seemed to favor continuing the program for another year, though there was a negative response from Charlie Anderson of Blackduck Family Foods.
He was one of a handful of business people who returned the survey form. That was in contrast to a larger return from parents and students. Among high school parents, 91 percent of the respondents were in favor, 84 percent of the elementary parents also in favor and among students surveyed, 85 percent liked the shortened school week.
Blackduck School Superintendent Bob Doetsch chaired the meeting and cautioned that test scores will show if students are doing as well as in the previous five-day terms. Those test scores won't be available until July, he told the more than 60 persons attending, adding that, "We've been the highest scoring school in the area, and we aren't going to give that up."
His power-point screen presentation emphasized that the savings from the shorter week had "provided us with a band aid, not a cure."
There were three goals the school board sought in approving the change: reduce expenses, minimize staff reduction and maintain electives. Side benefits have included sharp reductions in absenteeism, suspensions and even fights.
Cost reductions have included $57,000 in school bus fuel costs, $53,000 in salary savings and $15,000 from a cut in the number of teacher substitutes needed.
In an added comment, board member Larry Zea pointed out that in addition to the fuel savings, wear and tear on the buses was also reduced. Doetsch later added that it has been at least four years since a new bus has been added to the local fleet and that this represents another budget item that will need to be addressed.
An earlier concern voiced at meetings a year ago dealt with extra-curricular programs and how they would be affected by the longer school day which is part of the shortened week. Practices are now later and shorter, Doetsch reported, but the total hours involved are minimal.
Day care was another issue raised a year ago, but has not turned out to be the issue that was anticipated.
Cutting a day out of the school week affects a lot of businesses, Anderson told the audience, and the school needs these businesses as much as business needs the school. His concern, he went on, is that if "kids get used to the four-day week, what'll they do when they go to work and have to work five days?"
From the audience came a rebuttal comment that, "with the economy the way it is, we will all be on a four day week."
Though called as an opportunity for the board to hear from parents and residents, the meeting quickly turned to another review of what is happening to schools everywhere as federal and state mandates dictate what schools have to do, but renege on funding those same mandates.
"We're supposed to get 73¢ on the dollar of the aid we're due," Doetsch said, "but now instead of getting it when we should, we won't get it until May or June, and the other 27¢ we won't get until next year -- if at all. We're looking at having to borrow money and pay interest on it just to pay our bills.
"The four-day week was a last resort effort to solve the problem just for this year."
Asked if the change had affected enrollment, Doetsch said they knew of four students who moved to another school because of the change. When reminded that there were more than that in one family that moved their children to another school, "there were other issues that caused that" and Doetsch added that as of Monday, the school enrollment was one student higher than a year ago.
Talk of a school bond referendum included Doetsch's comment that it would now not happen before next fall, that he had suggested to a member of the Governor's staff that a statewide referendum might be a better way to meet the problem since it is really one of statewide proportion, adding the somber warning that if something isn't done, there could be more consolidation ahead.
He did not mention how the Saum School had become part of the Kelliher district, the Hines, Rebedew and other schools part of the Blackduck district, "and within ten years we might have just one school and the kids will all have to go to Bemidji."
"Why not a referendum now?" asked a member of the audience.
Looking at the four board members present, Doetsch said if a referendum is going to pass, it will have to start in the community. "I can't do it. It has to be led by one of you. If you want it, you'll have to do it. All I can say is that something has to be done."