PR Schools facing uncertain futurePublished 11:11am Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Switch back to 5-day weeks not ideal
The decision made by Minnesota education officials for the Pelican Rapids School District to return to five day school weeks has not changed the reality of the district’s financial situation, according to Superintendent Deb Wanek said.
The switch to four-day weeks was initially made in 2010 because of increasing costs associated with a five-day schedule, and Wanek still has many of the same concerns.
“If we don’t get additional funding, I don’t know how we would be able to maintain what we have,” Wanek said.
State officials informed the district earlier this month that it would have to switch back to a five-day school week for the 2015-2016 school year.
Wanek was informed of the decision on May 6. The district was one of seven across the state that were forced to make the change from four-day weeks either next school year or the following year. An eighth district voluntarily opted to return to a five day schedule.
The state’s decision was especially disappointing because the district had widespread support from parents for the four day schedule, based on survey results, hearings and meetings. Wanek also said test results and overall academic performance in the district have been strong since the switch.
But state education officials, including Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, said the four-day weeks were not meeting the necessary academic standards for students.
Wanek had been bracing for this decision throughout the district’s reapplication process. Officials including Cassellius and Gov. Mark Dayton had been making comments about their desire for longer school years and more days in the classroom, so Wanek knew getting the four-day week re-approved was a long shot.
But she thought she made a compelling argument for her district. Despite losing their four-day status, Wanek was pleased to be given a transition year for her and other district employees to formulate a plan.
This transition will be crucial for district teachers to refigure their lesson plans to once again fit a five-day schedule.
“They went through a lot of time and planning in order to do that,” Wanek said of teachers working on a four day schedule. “We’ll have a year to go back and redo our curriculum.”
Wanek said many school employees were surprised by the decision, including Activities Director Derrick Nelson. For Nelson, having a full day off on Monday freed up the activity schedule and allowed different clubs and sports more gym time than they could get during the rest of the week.
“Right now the Mondays are nice, especially in the winter … because each team can come in and have a 2.5- or 3-hour practice,” Nelson said.
There are a few options on the table which the district will consider as it transitions back to the five day schedule. Wanek is hopeful there will be more state funding for the district, but if that money is not available, the district will likely have to either spend down its fund balance or eliminate some positions or programs.
Spending down the fund balance is not preferable because that pot of money is not at the level the district would like it to be, and making cuts is also undesirable for obvious reasons. The district is also hesitant to return to residents with another referendum, having just passed a more than $21-million levy in November for school renovations.