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Clearbrook-Gonvick considers four-day school week

Clearbrook-Gonvick may be joining a growing number of Minnesota schools going to a four-day week.

The School Board has held one public meeting and plans two more before deciding in March or April on a two-year trial for limiting school to Monday through Thursday.

"Saving dollars is the motive," Superintendent Al Ralston said.

The projected savings is $140,000 for the 2010-11 school year. But, shortening the week is a not a cure-all to budget woes.

"This is a Band-Aid to a much bigger problem," Ralston said. "The state has to look at how we finance public schools. It's not an issue that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It's been growing and growing and then the economy went in the tank a year ago, and boom, it's become a huge problem for a lot of places."

The school district has cut nine staff members in recent years, so further cuts would mean trimming the curriculum, he said.

Blackduck, a neighbor and fellow member of a special education cooperative, made the switch to four days this school year. Clearbrook-Gonvick sent a group of people, including skeptics, to visit students, parents, faculty members and community members.

"No one from Blackduck made one negative comment," Ralston said. "Even their folks very much against it when it came up said that they don't want to go back to the five-day week."


saving money

Clearbrook-Gonvick also is consulting with Warroad, which converted last fall with cost-cutting as the objective. After six months, the district has saved $88,500, more than half of its $140,000 projection.

"We feel pretty good about that," Superintendent Craig Oftedahl said.

He also is satisfied about other aspects of the change.

"Our teachers did a tremendous job of gearing the education for kids to the time that is there," he said. "Teachers did a great job of changing the dynamics of the delivery. And the kids have been resilient and adjusted rather quickly."

When debating the four-day week a year ago, parents' biggest concern was the length of the school day. Classes run from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., 65 minutes more than before. Another hot-button issue was about securing day care for the younger students on Fridays. The school eased concerns with a day care for the lower elementary children and a three-hour activity block called "Fun, Fact and Fitness" for upper elementary. Tutors also are available Fridays.

Judy Turenne, president of the local teachers' union, said she is surprised at how well matters have gone. She credits the "seasoned, flexible" staff and the organization by administrators.

She said teachers were on board from the start because programs, activities and jobs were the other cost-cutting options. The youngest students had some trouble adjusting to the longer day, she said, but otherwise the change went "pretty much without a hitch."

An informal poll of her high school students showed they almost unanimously prefer the four-day week. And Turenne said there have been unforeseen "pleasant surprises," such as cutting the passing time between classes from five to three minutes.

"It's cut down on the bullying issues and the language issues because they don't have enough time," she said.

Teachers use Fridays instead of Saturdays as prep time, making for a longer weekend for them. And athletes don't miss as much class time because Fridays historically have a lot of games that require them to leave early.

Plus, the experiment is saving money, as promised.

"It would be a heck of a lot worse if we were cutting electives or activities," Turenne said. "That would be a lot more painful than being a little more tired at the end of the day.

"We sit with schools on both sides us with a full curriculum and activities," Turenne said, referring to Roseau and Baudette. "And, remember, it's free choice now."

Oftedahl said he anticipates a smoother school year in the second year of the four-day school week.

"I think that, after two years, it would be difficult to go back," Turenne said.