Two years of 4-day week nets NB district over $500,000

Curious people want to know: how much has the North Branch school district saved by going to a 4-day school week?

The answer provided at the July 12 school board meeting is over $500,000 for the two years of the alternate schedule.

Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton shared the information noting that the gross savings for the school year 2011-12 was $235,498. This savings was seen in energy costs, calculated through April, in transportation and support staff costs.

By investing $55,065 in half-day every day kindergarten, a feature many residents seem to appreciate, the actual net savings was $180,433, but that is expected to increase with the full-year energy savings.

Combine the gross savings with that from the school year 2010-11, $267,886, and you have a combined gross savings of over $500,000.

The next question off the tips of tongues of the curious is how well did the students do in those four days a week?

In her report Dr. Henton noted that there was a modest increase from 2010-11 in the MCA II reading tests, and the district remains above the state average.

While there was a slight decline in MCA II Math results since 2010-11, the MCA III Math results show improvement. The MCA III test is taken by students in grades 3-8.

In the grad writing test students remained steady from 2009-10 and the district remains above average, however, Henton noted this is not attributed to the 4-day week.

Interest in taking surveys about the 4-day week have waned among parents and staff.

However, students taking a survey reported 86 percent satisfied (very) or at the least, remain neutral.

Fourteen percent reported dissatisfaction.

Seventy-four percent of the parents who took the most recent survey on the 4-day week reported neutral to very satisfied, while 26 percent were dissatisfied.

Of the staff taking the survey, 90 percent report neutral to very satisfied, with 10 percent of those taking the survey dissatisfied.

Looking at the comparisons from fall 2010 to spring 2012, one sees that the number of students adjusting to the schedule is steadily increasing.

The trend applies to parents and staff also.

The alternate schedule has presented 2.4 fewer staff absences per day. Henton noted that the staff/teachers take advantage of the 5th day to schedule appointments and such.

The attendance rate for students has dropped from 4.5 percent to 3.6 percent in 2011-12, it had remained relatively flat in 2010-11.

A positive point is that student discipline has improved, with fewer referrals and a lower percentage of students requiring discipline.

As Dr. Henton noted, these findings are largely consistent with district research. The North Branch school district website has a wealth of researched information regarding the 4-day school schedule for anyone who would like to learn more about the schedule and how it has worked elsewhere.

The school district is entering the third year of the alternate schedule. Sometime in the coming year, the school board will have to decide if it wishes to continue with 4-day schedule.

Little patriots

Two young boys, students at Sunrise River Elementary, noticed that the American flag flying in front of the school didn’t look so good. So they came to Principal Jason Hartmann with their grandma and family members and brought a new flag to fly at the school.

Principal Hartmann was impressed and said it was heartwarming that these young boys would do this. So Dale Nelson, Charlie Templin and Principal Hartmann came to the school board to present the flag.

However, the flag was not present, as it was already flying on the pole at the school.

Hartmann said the flag is replaced three times a year.

Save the money

A significant portion of the school board meeting was a continued discussion of what to do with savings discovered by the settlement of the teachers’ contract. At a work session in late June board members discussed adding teachers, technology, and other things that would help reduce class size.

That discussion continued.

Board member Trent Jensen pushed hard to use $177,000 to hire teachers to keep class size down.

He, in fact, moved to do just that and to spend $50,000 on technology. In the end, his motion, which had been supported by board member John White, failed 4-2.

White liked the idea of putting back “some of what we took away” during budgeting work.

But member Kirby Ekstrom favored sustainability, and said hiring teachers was not sustainable. Using funds to cover costs of Project Lead the Way, he approved. And he supported administration’s suggestion of K-Everyday.

Board chairwoman Kim Salo favored holding the line on spending to reduce future deficits.

Member Randy Westby believes the district is at rock bottom and going up now, and he favored saving the money.

Board member Jay Falk said the ideas for spending it are good, but wanted to save it.

Salo agreed on saving but said future conversations could continue on ways to keep students at North Branch.

Westby suggested the “toaster” method, that is giving something away to families who bring their children to the NB schools, like the banks used to do.

A school board work session is scheduled for Thursday, July 26, 7 p.m. in the board room.

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