Strangled by chronic underfunding, school districts across the state are taking up one of the last measures allowed to them: The four-day school week.
In May, Minnesota 2020 documented how five districts have used the four-day week for more than one year, and five more plan to start offering the shortened week this year.
One of those districts, Lake Superior, has hit a snag. The Minnesota Department of Education denied the district’s request, saying school officials did not get enough community input on the four-day week and did not provide proof that the students would be receiving the same instruction time as they do on the current schedule, according to a news report.
Meanwhile, the Pelican Rapids School District will vote Monday on whether to pursue a four-day week. School officials began pursuing the four-day week in May when taxpayers defeated the district’s third levy measure in three years. The district plans to save almost $100,000 a year in transportation, energy and support staff costs by making the switch.
If the school board decides to go ahead with the plan, a proposal will be submitted the following day to the state to get approval to implement the four-day week this fall.
School districts, especially those with large geographical areas and a small number of students, have found they can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by moving to the four-day school week. While these districts do receive additional money through a transportation sparsity index, most find this insufficient to meet their transportation needs.
In addition, transportation is part of each district’s general fund, meaning that districts can siphon money from the transportation funds to supplement other educational needs like teachers and books. Minnesota has cut spending on education an inflation-adjusted 14 percent since 2003. School districts are scrambling for every bit of cash they can gather to continue to offer an education.
In 2008, MACCRAY became the first recent Minnesota district to start a four-day week, followed last year by Blackduck, Warroad and Ogilvie. St. James started a four-day week last winter. Clearbrook-Gonvick, Onamia, North Branch and A.C.G.C. will start next fall.
To be approved for a four-day week by the state, the district must show that no education time will be lost, usually by extending the length of the four school days. The district also has to hold special hearings and conduct other public engagement before the schedule is approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.
The four-day week was used to save money during the 1980s, although all Minnesota schools reverted to a regular school week after several years. The practice hung on in some rural districts in Wyoming, South Dakota and Louisiana, and districts in states such as Kentucky and West Virginia have recently moved to four-day weeks to save money.
But after examining the four-day week, several Minnesota districts have rejected the idea. Crookston, Norman County East, Rush City, Yellow Medicine East, Le Sueur-Henderson and Southland all considered and rejected the four-day week. Most cited insufficient savings or feared lack of academic rigor if the shortened week was adopted.