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ACGC board expected to decide Monday about four-day week

Dan Tait, a former ACGC school board member who is now employed as the business manager, records comments Thursday from residents during an informational meeting about the district's consideration of implementing a four-day school week. ACGC administrators and school board members discussed the pros and cons of the proposal with residents during community meetings this week. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

GROVE CITY -- The ACGC School Board will decide Monday whether to implement a four-day school week this fall.

Residents of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District have until noon Monday to complete an online survey on the school's Web site about the proposal.

Feedback from that survey, as well as comments obtained during three community meetings this week, will have a bearing on the board's decision.

The district could save about $64,000 annually with reduced transportation and utility costs by being closed on Mondays.

It's a trend more Minnesota school districts are considering in light of tight state funding and declining enrollment.

Making the dramatic change to the school calendar will be one of the "biggest decisions" board member Joel Gratz said he'll have to make.

During an informational meeting Thursday, Gratz said he's concerned the longer school day of a four-day week could tax young children and their families.

Under a tentative schedule, students would be in class from around 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Many ride the bus for at least an hour in the morning and afternoon resulting in a 10-hour day.

Gratz said that schedule could be tough for kids, like his kindergartner.

But on the other hand, he said, doing nothing is an option that would put the district in a tough financial situation. The district recently got out of statutory operating debt, the term used te when a district has been deficit spending beyond levels allowed by the state.

Even with new revenue from an operating levy, Gratz said ACGC will be in debt in two years.

The district needs to cut $100,000 to $150,000 from the 2010-11 school budget, K-8 Principal Dave Oehrlein said.

Saving money by going to a four-day week could make a difference in maintaining others things in the district that parents and students say they value: small class sizes, electives and extra-curricular activities.

"I'm not here to sell it to you," Oehrlein said, while explaining the plan to the 75 people who attended Thursday's meeting. But he said it's an "out-of-the-box" proposal that could help the district financially while preserving its educational program.

Residents had questions about the projected savings, if students would leave the district because of a four-day schedule, how extra-curricular activities would be scheduled and accessing the district's day-care program during non-school days.

Many of the answers that were provided were based on results gleaned from the MACCRAY School District that implemented a four-day school week in 2008.

Oehrlein said ACGC teachers are "overwhelmingly" supportive of the four-day plan, in part because of the longer class time.

Lexi Cummings, a third-grade teacher, said if the new schedule is approved, teachers "will give it our best shot" to make it succeed.

"I have faith in all our staff," Oehrlein said.

Because so many Minnesota schools are submitting proposals for a four-day week that need to be reviewed and approved by the state, Oehrlein said ACGC needs to make a decision now so that there's adequate time for the state to review ACGC's proposal.

If state approval is received, Oehrlein said school administrators will have a lot to do before school begins in September to finalize details of the plan.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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