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ACGC seeks input on four-day calendar

GROVE CITY -- The ACGC School Board agreed Monday to continue its exploratory look at implementing a four-day school week.

The next step is conducting three community meetings next month.

The public presentations will focus on how school officials would convert a five-day schedule into four days, the expected cost savings to the district and potential academic benefits to students in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District.

The meetings will also give residents an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns. That will provide a barometer of public sentiment that could help the school board decide whether or not to implement the change -- which could be done as soon as this fall.

Students are already starting to weigh in.

Marie Stetler, a high school senior who represents students at board meetings, said members of the student council discussed the issue and had "a lot of questions" but seemed to support the idea.

"I didn't hear anything negative except about the longer day," said Stetler. "I would've enjoyed having it this year."

Principal Dave Oehrlein said the current minutes that students spend in the school building and in the classroom were converted from a five-day schedule to a four-day schedule for the proposal.

Currently, students spend 48 minutes in each class. With a four-day schedule, they would spend 59 minutes.

When the calculations were completed, Oehrlein said students would actually spend 518 more minutes in the classroom each year under the four-day schedule than they do under the current five-day schedule.

The students would be "getting extra instruction time," said Superintendent Sherri Broderius.

She said that extra time isn't significant in total hours, but there could be academic benefits to being in a classroom for 11 extra minutes each day. Teachers have been asked to consider how they would adjust their curriculum to fit the different time table.

While high school students might be able to adapt to longer days, there was concern about how younger students would fare.

Most weeks students would have Monday off from school. But there would be weeks, like during some holidays or during the fall teachers' convention, when students would attend school on Monday but not Friday.

Oehrlein said a four-day week would not be totally new to ACGC students. In this school year, there are 11 weeks when students go only three or four days because of holidays or other school events and breaks.

"It seems like a big change, but I think it would work pretty well," said Broderius. "It appeals to me as an educator."

Broderius and Oehrlein are continuing to evaluate potential cost savings in areas like utilities and reduced substitute teacher compensation. "Some things we can't measure until we do it," said Broderius.

It's estimated that transportation costs could be reduced by $38,000.

Board member Jeanna Lilleberg asked if $38,000 was worth the disruption.

Oehrlein said the transportation savings would happen every year. Considering that the district may have to borrow money to make payroll next month, he asked what else the district could cut to improve the budget.

Chairwoman Judy Raske said $38,000 would be substantial compared to the "nickel and diming" the district has resorted to in order to find $500 savings here and there.

Business manager Connie Dallmann said the district's general fund is $111,000 in the red because of a large debt service payment. If the district had not sought federal stimulus funding, payroll would not have been met in February without borrowing money.

Because the district's cash flow is hurt by the state withholding funds, making March payroll will most likely require borrowing money.

"It's nip and tuck, said Dallmann.

A reoccurring question among families about a four-day week concerns day care.

Broderius said it's hoped that the added cost of a full day of care on Mondays will be offset by savings in before- and after-school day care that may not be needed because of the longer school days.

The board is expected to make a decision at its March 22 meeting on whether or not to move to a four-day week.

Even if the change is made, Broderius said it does not mean the school is committed to doing it year after year if it does not work out.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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