Rural Minnesota school district appeals to keep 4-day schedule born of fiscal struggles

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MACCRAY students head to the busses at four o'clock at the end of the day, Dec. 18, 2014. A fight is brewing here in this small pocket of southwestern Minnesota between a handful of rural school districts and the state. At issue is control over their innovative four-day school week, a popular schedule with both students, parents and teachers. Born out of financial necessity during leaner times, the four-day calendar has saved rural schools money on busing, heating and other administrative costs. School education officials, however, have ordered districts such as Maynard-Clara City-Raymond in west central Minnesota. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe) ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT, MINNEAPOLIS-AREA TV OUT, MAGS OUT


MACCRAY ninth grader Kelvin Miles heads to basketball practice before an afternoon game, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. A fight is brewing here in this small pocket of southwestern Minnesota between a handful of rural school districts and the state. At issue is control over their innovative four-day school week, a popular schedule with both students, parents and teachers. Born out of financial necessity during leaner times, the four-day calendar has saved rural schools money on busing, heating and other administrative costs. School education officials, however, have ordered districts such as Maynard-Clara City-Raymond in west central Minnesota. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe) ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT, MINNEAPOLIS-AREA TV OUT, MAGS OUT


CLARA CITY, Minnesota — A rural school district in west-central Minnesota wants to keep its four-day week.

Some Minnesota districts switched to a four-day schedule during the economic slowdown as a way to save costs. With the financial crisis over, the Minnesota Education Department is ordering those districts to return to a traditional, five-day week by next fall.

But MACCRAY schools — as the Maynard-Clara City-Raymond school district is known — want to stick with the four-day week.

The four-day schedule that runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. has proved popular with students, parents, teachers and even local businesses, who hire teens to work on their off-day, the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1xBVn2d ) reported. District officials say they have saved thousands of dollars on busing, heating and other administrative costs.

"It just works really well for us," MACCRAY Schools Superintendent Brian Koslofsky said. "Even though we have a healthy budget now, (the money saved) we can put into the classroom."

But state education officials say there has been a lack of adequate academic progress in the district.

In the MACCRAY district, the high school test scores are a little below average but the elementary schools are at or slightly above the statewide average. State officials say they are concerned that the district has not made strong enough gains among low-income students.

The four-day week was born of financial necessity, state Education Department spokesman Josh Collins said. Now, with improved school fund balances, Collins said, "it does beg the question, should the financial need continue to outweigh what appears to be a negative impact on student achievement?"

At MACCRAY, a school board committee is exploring ways to retain the shorter school week, including drafting a bill to allow for local control on the matter. State Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Rep.-elect Tim Miller, a Republican who represents the area, said they plan to support legislation should the district choose that route.

Koslofsky said he hopes to build a coalition with other rural districts with four-day weeks. Nearly a dozen school districts have operated on alternate calendars, and four others in addition to MACCRAY have been ordered to revert to five-day schedules next fall. Three other districts are up for renewal of their schedules next year.

While residents initially had reservations about the shorter school week and longer days, many now embrace the four-day schedule.

"I love it," said Laura Hauser, a senior at MACCRAY High who was in sixth grade when the schedule was first adopted. "I feel like I adjusted pretty quickly."

Mondays are also productive, Hauser said. She works a part-time retail job in nearby Willmar, plays volleyball and softball and takes a class at the community college on Mondays to earn early college credit.

But Ben Henker, a sophomore, said the longer school day sometimes wears on students. "It's more time being here, and it's kind of tiresome," he said.


Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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