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Four-day school week for Warroad?

WARROAD - Because of budget problems, Warroad may become Minnesota's second school to adopt a four-day week.

According to the superintendent of the first school district to cut a day from the school week, Warroad isn't alone in studying that option.

"I have been contacted by at least 40 schools," said Greg Schmidt of MACCRAY, an acronym for the consolidation of the Maynard, Clara City and Raymond school districts. "There's a lot of interest out there."

MACCRAY converted in the fall of 2008. The sole motive was saving money.

"We believe we'll save between $85,000 and $100,000 this school year," Schmidt said. "If we reach $100,000, it will be about 1.5 percent of our budget."

Warroad's reason for researching the option is money, too. The district needs to cut $900,000 from its 2009-10 budget. Although nothing has been finalized, Superintendent Craig Oftedahl said the board has agreed in principle on about $630,000 of trims. Since Oftedahl said a four-day week would save about $200,000, most of the remaining savings could be accomplished with that move.

"If we don't go to four days, the cuts will be deeper," Oftedahl said. "I don't know if we'll pull the trigger on it. It's still in the exploratory stage and just one of many options."

Move comes highly recommended

Schmidt highly recommends the move.

The money savings have come from expected areas such as transportation and heating. Buses no longer run Mondays, cutting those costs by one-fifth, and the thermostat is turned down from 68 to 60 degrees for three days instead of two.

Savings also have come in unexpected ways, such as needing fewer substitute teachers because employees are scheduling their appointments for Mondays. Students also are using that day for appointments, approving attendance.

It has meant more classroom time, too. Even though only 65 minutes has been added to the school day, which now runs from 8 a.m. to 4:05 p.m., students will receive 17 hours more of instructional time over the school year. The reason is that lunch, time between classes and time spent for administrative tasks in classrooms is eliminated one day each week.

Although there are matters of finding day care and leaving some children home alone during a weekday, "Overall, our parents like it," Schmidt said. "They have more family time with kids and less stress to get things done on the weekends.

"And, of course, our staff and students enjoy having to come to school just four days."

The younger children took some time to adjust to the longer day, but teachers say they're doing at least as well as previous classes.

Schmidt admits that $100,000 doesn't sound like a huge savings in a $7 million budget. But, "if we didn't do it, we would have cut another two teachers," he said.

"We have five other high schools within 17 miles of our front door, so if we keep reducing electives, they may pick up and go somewhere else. We're trying to keep them at home."

Jobs in jeopardy

Cuts that have gained a board consensus in Warroad include one administrator, five teachers and 15 other employees, some with reduced hours. More jobs likely are on the line, along with programs and activities, if the four-day week isn't adopted.

One public meeting on the four-day week drew about 100 people, with two more meetings on the subject coming this week.

"Overall, the folks in attendance were open to the idea, but they still have a lot of unanswered questions," Oftedahl said. "When it came to specifics, we do not yet have as many answers as they would like.

"People are concerned about a four-day week, yet aren't completely against it because they see it as a way of saving teachers. More teachers mean avoiding larger large class sizes and keeping integrity in the classroom."

About 100 school districts in 17 states are running four-day weeks. Many of them are rural schools in Colorado and South Dakota. But the Rochester, Minn., school system also is exploring it because of a need to cut $10 million from its budget.

Warroad's decision is expected in four to six weeks.