BEMIDJI --- The first offering on the chopping block to help solve the district’s budget crisis? The Bemidji High School four-period-per-day block schedule.
Students at BHS currently attend four classes per day, with courses switching at the midpoint of the year, so students may take eight different classes in a year. A proposal to shift BHS back to a six-period schedule, which would hold throughout the school year, is currently on the table.
The district has not had a six-period day since 1995. According to some parents and students, this move would be a mistake. The Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education will take action on the likely contentious matter during the Jan. 25 board meeting.
In a letter addressing the school board, Superintendent Tim Lutz laid out the potential shift from a four-period day to a six-period day as something that could save the district $640,000.
“An analysis has determined that ISD 31 can save approximately 10% of the cost to run a four-period day by moving to a six-period day due to the efficiencies inherent in a schedule that offers more class periods,” he wrote. “The block period schedule is very expensive. Only a very small percentage of high schools in Minnesota remain on the block system due to the high expense of running a block schedule.”
Some students are less than thrilled with the idea. In a change.org petition posted Thursday afternoon, BHS sophomore Alya Nimis-Ibrahim argued against it.
She pleaded with the district to “investigate all other solutions to the budget deficit,” first.
“The change from a 4-period to the 6-period school day would offer Bemidji High School students two (fewer) credits per year -- six instead of eight -- amounting to eight (fewer) credits over the course of our high school education -- 24 instead of 32,” she wrote. “This change would drastically decrease the amount of electives students can take.”
“The excellent selection of electives and the opportunity to try many different things draw students and families to the high school and to the area. We want Bemidji High School to continue to be a hub for performing arts, engineering, mathematics and music in an area where many schools do not have the same opportunities,” she continued. “These activities are not just fun, they build real skills that make us better students, professionals and community members.”
The petition amassed over 500 signatures in its first three hours online, and had more than 1,800 signatures as of 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Parents and community members have spoken out against the measure as well, with one posting a YouTube video about the issue on Jan. 21, calling the action a “regress.” Daniel Larson, a former university professor who described himself as a “very concerned parent” in a letter to the Pioneer, called the four-period day “arguably instrumental in making Bemidji High School the great institution it is today.” Larson said the four-period schedule was one of the key decision factors in enrolling his daughter in Bemidji Area Schools.
He said the switch would dampen student achievements at every level, because the block schedule allows students to explore electives like music, art and technology, advanced classes, career academies and retake courses if needed without falling even further behind.
“In education, and so many things in life, the old adage ‘one size does not fit all’ is so true as the current 4/4 block scheduling can serve such a diverse set of student needs and allow flexibility. We are at the point where the faculty and administration have mastered it. Yes, there is always more room for improvement but there are schools across the nation that wish they could have what we have,” Larson wrote in a letter to board members.
“This current 4/4 scheduling system has been challenged by the school district in the past and each time it was simply an effort to save money not to create a better learning model. Each time it was the teachers and administration that came to the rescue to save the day for the students.”
Post-referendum failure, the Bemidji Area Schools district is facing a severe budget shortfall and it seems cuts are inevitable.
Larson suggested that if another referendum vote were to occur -- with all of the stakes laid out on the table -- it might be more likely to pass.
“The recent operating referendum failed to pass resulting in the loss of a potential $1.5 million a year in revenue, the school district must now take a number of difficult steps to reduce budget expenditures,” Lutz wrote to the board. “I am recommending this change in the high school schedule at this time as a means to preserve our general operating budget. Taking this large step will prevent our school district from statutory operating debt, which is a status we must avoid.”
If the measure were to be adopted, the change would begin with the 2021-22 school year.
The Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25, at the district offices in downtown Bemidji.