After considering information garnered from three public meetings and a community survey, the North Branch Area Public Schools School Board decided Thursday to stay with a four-day school week.
The decision to keep with the status quo was approved by a 3-2 vote. Board member Kirby Ekstrom was absent. Kim Salo, Tim MacMillan and Linda Heidelberger voted in approval, with Randy Westby and Jay Falk casting dissenting votes.
For the past three years, the district has operated under the four-day week model. Students don’t attend classes Mondays, but the amount of time per year they’re in school is the same as it had been under the five-day week because the school days are longer.
It was implemented as a cost-saving measure for the district when it faced significant budget shortfalls due to inequity in the state school funding formula and an inability to secure a voter-approved operating levy.
Superintendent Deb Henton told the board those factors have not changed and moving back to the five-day week model would have led to more staff reduction.
The district can now apply to the state again to use the four-day week model for the next three years, but it has the option to opt out at any point.
Under the four-day week, the district will have to continue to look at budget adjustments, but it will be able to offer more courses and programming, which could attract more families to the area, Henton noted.
Under the five-day week, the equivalent of five teaching positions would have been cut, with some programming being reduced or eliminated.
Some positions slated for removal were half time or less. When added together, the positions equaled about five full-time instructional jobs.
North Branch Area High School Principal Coleman McDonough said with the five-day week model, German would have been cut from the school’s world language program, and it would have diminished the ability to have Project Lead The Way move into the high school.
That initiative is already underway in the junior high; it’s an educational plan that stresses the use of more high-tech equipment in classrooms.
The aim of Project Lead The Way is to provide students with problem-solving skills they could use to obtain jobs that might not even exist today.
The board is also looking at bringing an Air Force JROTC program into the high school. Having a five-day week and subsequently less discretionary money would have hindered the school’s ability to offer the program.
At Sunrise River Elementary School, a half-day option for kindergarten would not have been offered under the five-day week, Principal Jason Hartmann noted.
Todd Tezlaff, the middle school principal, said fewer courses would have been available to students with the five-day week.
“We’d have a limitation with offerings,” he said, noting having a variety of programming is integral for student development.
“Middle school is when they find things they’re interested in.”
Student enrollment still an issue
Westby, like he has at previous meetings, said he was not in favor of the four-day week because he views it as a detriment to bringing more families with children into the district.
“I know (declining enrollment) is a great factor,” he said. “That comes with a four-day week at this point in time. I see that as our biggest threat.”
He added he sees benefits to the four-day week, but said North Branch schools are falling behind other districts in the state the longer it continues.
“It’s time to get back on a level playing field,” he said. “We have to be competitive, which means five days.”
Board member Tim MacMillan said the board had to make a tough decision about how many days students go to school per week, but stressed the board is using its resources to the best of its ability.
“These are not easy decisions to make,” he said. “We’re in the business of educating kids, and I think we’re doing a great job.”