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Bemidji school board approves 5-period schedule at BHS starting fall 2023

Bemidji High School will have a five-period school day starting in fall 2023.

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The Bemidji school board voted unanimously during a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, to approve a five-period schedule at the high school to take effect in fall 2023.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Bemidji High School will have a five-period school day starting fall 2023.

Following more than a year of budget cut discussions resulting from two failed referendum attempts in November 2020 and November 2021 , the change in the high school’s four-period block schedule took center stage at a special meeting of Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education on Thursday.

Superintendent Tim Lutz opened the discussion by describing the cost savings that could result from running a five-period day and additional flexibility in student schedules.

“An analysis has determined that ISD 31 can save significant costs of running a four-period block schedule by creating a block schedule that incorporates five periods within the day,” Lutz said. “In addition, the five-period block schedule creates additional efficiencies by providing more class periods and, therefore, more options and flexibility for students, and in many cases, smaller class sizes.”

Lutz detailed that the district could see projected savings of $320,000 a year if the district makes no additional staffing cuts. He also mentioned an increase in productivity among staff as a result.

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He spoke in terms of full-time equivalents, or FTE’s, which are a measure of an employee’s scheduled hours divided by the employer’s hours for a full-time workweek.

For example, a full-time employee working 40 hours a week would be a 1.0 FTE, while a part-time employee working 20 hours a week is a 0.5 FTE.

One FTE costs the district around $80,000 a year. The $320,000 annual savings would come from cutting four FTE’s resulting from discontinued staff overloads when classes exceed recommended enrollment limits.

In these situations, additional part-time staff members are hired or a full-time teacher will teach during their prep period.

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Bemidji school board members discuss potential schedule changes at the high school during a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in the district board room.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Regarding daily instructional times, Human Resources Director Jordan Hickman detailed that each teacher in the four-period schedule teaches for 270 minutes with three classes running 90 minutes each.

With the five-period schedule, each teacher would have four classes running 75 minutes each, adding up to 300 minutes of instructional time a day and giving students 30 extra class minutes a day.

“We’re not getting 10% of the highly qualified instructional time that we employ teachers for,” Hickman said regarding the four-period day.

That 10% efficiency would allow the district to potentially gain back anywhere from zero to eight FTE’s in future school years with the cost savings of eight FTE’s totaling around $640,000.

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However, Hickman cautioned the board that the savings will vary based on enrollment and inflation, but kept the district’s budget deficit in perspective.

“When we look at between $500,000 and $600,000 in potential savings against the current budget imbalance of $2 million, that’s anywhere from 20-30% of that imbalance that could be brought back through this process,” Hickman added.

Beyond the savings

BHS Principal Jason Stanoch and Curriculum Director Colleen Cardenuto spoke on the curriculum impacts of the schedule’s transition.

Under the current schedule, students are required to complete 28 credits for graduation with a reduced diploma option of 24.

With added electives, the five-period day will require completion of 35 credits with a reduced diploma requiring 32 credits to graduate.

The first three grades to be affected by the schedule change — classes of 2024, 2025 and 2026 — will not be expected to achieve the 35-credit load but still meet state curriculum requirements.

Board member Jeff Lind questioned possible effects on AP and college-in-the-schools courses resulting from shortened class periods with Stanoch acknowledging current college requirements.

“Right now, AP is a challenge because there’s a direct measurement. You take the AP test and you either score well or not so well,” Stanoch said. “So there is a challenge with that reduction in time.”

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Stanoch also detailed college-in-the-schools benchmarks including class time that, even with the shortened classes in a five-period day, still exceeds what area colleges have in place for time requirements.

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Bemidji school board members discuss hiring a firm to assist in the search for a new superintendent during a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in the district board room.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Lind shifted in a different direction when asking about recent student behaviors and whether the schedule change could address those issues.

“Do we have any reason to expect any changes in those behavioral challenges with a shortened class period, more classes and shorter times for students going to and from classes?” Lind asked.

Stanoch detailed his research from other area schools that the shorter and more frequent transition times between classes could lead to fewer behavioral issues specifically relating to students skipping classes.

“When we look at a 90-minute class, skipping is our number one offense,” Stanoch said. “We’re anticipating we’ll have fewer behavioral issues (with 75-minute classes).”

Stanoch informed the board that student behavioral problems have been drastically reduced due to strategic interventions in recent weeks, but doubled down on the future schedule’s potential to keep students involved and out of trouble.

Following further discussion, the board unanimously approved the five-period schedule to take effect in fall 2023. This will give the district next school year to train personnel, update instructional materials and make one-time purchases for curriculum needs.

Board Chair Carol L. Johnson said in closing, “the four-period day, as good as it is, is not ideal for all students. Looking at a five-period day, we’re hoping it’s going to be beneficial for all students.”

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Superintendent Tim Lutz listens as Bemidji school board members discuss hiring a firm to assist in the search for a new superintendent during a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in the district board room.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Other business

The board started the meeting in a closed session where District Business Director Krisi Fenner presented a purchase agreement of the Community Education Building, which was closed as a cost-saving measure last year along with Central Elementary and the Paul Bunyan Center.

“In 2021, as part of budget reduction efforts, the Community Education Building located at 1420 Beltrami Ave. NW was vacated, declared surplus property and listed for sale with a commercial real estate agent,” Fenner wrote in a letter. “An official offer has been presented and reviewed by the Facilities Committee.”

The board unanimously approved the sale of the building to Dane Jones and Teresa Freeberg for $290,900 with the stipulation that the property cannot be used by a charter school or other entity for the provision of educational services.

The board also reviewed a superintendent search process following Lutz’s resignation at the Jan. 24 board meeting. After some discussion, they unanimously voted to employ the Minnesota School Board Association to begin the search process in early February.

A closed negotiation strategy session closed out the evening.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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