Tough decisions ahead for NBAPS School Board

Five teachers could be cut if district implements five-day week

North Branch Area Public Schools Superintendent Deb Henton presented the  school board with two options in regard to the four-day school week at the board’s Thursday work session: continue with the four-day week, or go back to the five-day week and consider cutting five teachers.

At the start of the discussion on the four-day week, Don Lifto, a client representative with Springsted, a public sector advising company, presented the board with the results of a community survey the company recently completed on the four-day week.

The survey included a random sample of 300 registered voters contacted via telephone, and a Web-based survey of parents in ISD #138.

A total of 813 area parents completed the online survey.

The first question of the surveys asked respondents if they supported or opposed the four-day week.

The majority of those who took the telephone survey—49 percent—said they supported the four-day week.

Thirty-nine percent were opposed.

Just over 11 percent of respondents had no opinion on the matter.

The numbers were slightly higher in the parents-only Web survey, with 56.4 percent in approval, 40.4 percent against and 3.3 percent who did not have an opinion.

After respondents completed the rest of the survey questions and were presented with information about the district’s financial status, they were asked again if they supported or opposed the four-day week.

The percentage of approval in the telephone survey increased to 51.7 percent.

The percentage in the online survey stayed about the same.


‘Can’t win’ scenario

Henton told the school board the district is in a “can’t win” situation when it comes to addressing the four-day week.

She acknowledged there is a substantial amount of community members who do not support the current model, but the alternative is one that would likely involve staff reduction.

If the district were to go back to the five-day week, Henton said the board would have to find a way to cut $250,000, which she said equates to the salaries of about five teachers.

She noted the financial situation likely wouldn’t change for North Branch Area Public Schools unless the school funding formula is changed at the state level, or if voters approve an operating levy.

“A big part of the problem is that we don’t have a levy in place,” she said. “Until our community steps up and stands behind this school district, we’re always going to have this problem.”


Survey results came late

Henton was looking for direction on the four-day week at the meeting so the board could make a final decision March 7 about whether or not to apply to the state for another three-year contract to operate with a four-day week.

It would not be a binding contract; the district could opt out if it decides to go back to the five-day week before the end of the contract.

Numerous school board members said they had not received the results of the Springsted survey until the day of the work session, and added they wanted time to look over the open-ended questions respondents answered in the surveys.

“I think the answers to the open-ended questions are going to be very important in how we make this decision,” board member Jay Falk said.

Board members Randy Westby, Tim MacMillan and Linda Heidelberger agreed with Falk’s assertion, with Westby adding he thinks the district would likely return to the five-day week “at some point.”

As it stands now, the board will have to determine the merits of the four-day versus five-day model at the March 7 meeting and decide which one is best for the district.



Addressing student enrollment 

Westby said addressing student enrollment is one of his chief concerns, and said the four-day week could be having a negative impact on getting families to enroll their children in District #138.

Board member Kirby Ekstrom noted the district does not have statistics in regards to whether or not the four-day week is adversely affecting enrollment, and said numerous other factors affect enrollment, such as the fact that the population of the area is aging, and there are less younger families in the area than there have been in previous years.

He also said families are simply having less children; the large “farm families” are becoming less common.

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