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Officials in BBE entertain four-day week

BELGRADE -- Another west central Minnesota school district is weighing the pros and cons of moving to a four-day school week to save money.

At a special meeting earlier this month, the Brooten-Belgrade-Elrosa School Board directed the administration to research potential cost savings and the academic impact to students if a four-day school week was implemented in the fall for the 2011-12 year.

Three community meetings will be held in March with a final board decision expected at the end of the month.

"This is not a done deal," Superintendent Matt Bullard said during an interview Tuesday.

He said the district is in the exploratory stage of considering implementing a shorter school week as an option for saving an estimated $100,000.

But Bullard said if it's determined the change is "not a good fit for us, we'll look elsewhere to find savings."

The district has cut about $1 million over the past four years. In November, BBE voters also renewed a 10-year operating levy that generates $837 per pupil in additional revenue.

But a review of the budget in December indicated the district needs to cut another $350,000 in order to have a balanced budget next year.

That's when it was agreed the district needed to "at least sit down and consider" a four-day week, said Bullard, who admits he balked when the school board informally discussed the flexible schedule as a cost-saving option a year ago.

Bullard said he is concerned that BBE students, who have done well in state tests, could experience reduced academic achievements with a shorter week.

On the other hand, without a four-day week, valuable student programs will be cut to create the same $100,000 in savings.

The goal of having a four-day week would be to preserve as many student programs as possible and "trade-offs" will have to be assessed, Bullard said.

"It's all about student programming," he said. "If we can save a program and still be successful, I'd say I would be on board."

As part of its research, the BBE district has been communicating with two other area districts that have a four-day school week: MACCRAY and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City.

He has also met with school staff and area day care providers about implications of a four-day school week. He is scheduled to meet with community church leaders to discuss possible conflicts with Wednesday night religious classes.

A group of high school students have volunteered to survey sixth- through 12th-grade students to get their input.

Bullard said community meetings, tentatively scheduled for March 3, 7 and 8, will provide the biggest input before the board decides whether or not to apply to the state Department of Education for the flexible schedule.

The issue will not be put on the ballot for residents to vote on, he said.

Even if the application is sent, Bullard said there's no guarantee the state will approve it.

With a new education commissioner and Gov. Mark Dayton's unfavorable comments about schools resorting to a four-day week to meet budget demands, Bullard said there may be changes in how applications are handled in St. Paul.

Even if a four-day week is approved and the district saves $100,000 through reduced transportation, personnel and miscellaneous costs, another $250,000 in savings has to be found.

Those savings may include not replacing retiring teachers, reducing extra-curricular activities, eliminating an after-school shuttle bus between the three communities and eliminating a prized seventh-grade math program.

Carolyn Lange

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

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