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Minnesota education officials roll back 4-day school week

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After an experiment with four-day school weeks, Clearbrook-Gonvick School District in Minnesota will return to five-day weeks in the fall.

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Warroad (Minn.) School District could be next.

The state Department of Education earlier this month rejected Clearbrook-Gonvick School District’s application to continue its four-day schedule for another three-year period.

It’s one of 11 Minnesota school districts currently on four-day weeks. Eight of the 11 will be switching back to five-day weeks over the next two years.

The four-day schedule has saved school districts money and is popular with families and teachers, but the Education Department has determined test scores have not improved enough to continue with the schedule.

Clearbrook-Gonvick Interim Superintendent Herb Benz declined to discuss the state’s decision.

School officials in Warroad, which will be up for renewal in 2015, are hoping to continue the four-day weeks even though the tide may be rolling against them.

Savings

“We’d like to continue down that road, unless we’re told otherwise,” Warroad Superintendent Craig Oftedahl said. “From what we’re seeing, it doesn’t seem to be very palatable to the Minnesota Department of Education.”

Oftedahl estimated Warroad has saved about $1 million — or about $225,000 annually — in the 4.5 years the district has been on the four-day schedule. The final number for 2013-2014 will not be known until after the budget year ends June 30.

The school district, which has just more than 1,000 K-12 students, operates on an annual budget of about $12.8 million.

Clearbrook-Gonvick is one of three ordered to return to five-day weeks, beginning next school year. The others are Onamia and North Branch.

When Clearbrook-Gonvick initially decided to switch to four-day weeks, officials estimated the district would save about $240,000 annually. The district has about 440 students in K-12.

Five districts are required to return to five-day schedules by the 2015-16 school year. They are Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Lake Superior, Ogilvie, Maynard-Clara City-Raymond and Pelican Rapids.

The remaining three, including Warroad, come up for renewal in 2015 or 2016.

Test scores

While the shorter weeks have proven popular with families and teachers — individual school district polls have shown approval ratings of 80 percent or higher — the state Department of Education concluded that test scores in those districts weren’t improving enough to justify the change.

 “Through the course of time, I think we’ve maintained, inched up a bit in our test scores,” Oftedahl said. “From what we’re hearing, we haven’t been making enough gains.”

While the application deadline for a new three-year period is a few months down the road, Oftedahl said the School Board and other school officials are trying to determine what improvement must be demonstrated to justify keeping the four-day week.

“We want to know what gains are required. Is it 5 percent? Is it 3 percent? Is it 2 percent? We don’t know,” he said. “We’ve kind of done what we wanted to do — maintain high quality educational programming and try to save money.”

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Kevin Bonham
Kevin Bonham covers news from northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native, who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for nearly 30 years. 
(701) 780-1110
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