Duluth middle school schedule-change proposal includes fewer electives

/ 9 May 2012 / jennifer

Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune, May 9, 2012 –

Proposed schedule changes for Duluth school district middle schools next year include reduced music time for seventh-graders and one less elective choice for eighth-graders.

Moving from seven periods in a day to six slightly longer periods next year is part of the district’s plan to cut $3.5 million from its budget. The move — causing layoffs — would save $900,000, but the Duluth Federation of Teachers has yet to agree to the contract change required to do so. The School Board will vote on the measure Tuesday, but it can’t be put into motion unless union members approve it.

“It’s much easier said than done to just change the middle school day and save a million dollars,” said Frank Wanner, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers. “The feeling is what we have is really good for kids. When you eliminate teachers to save money, you eliminate what they do.”

But if this choice isn’t made, he said, cuts will be made elsewhere.

The board heard a proposal from district officials Tuesday that was put together after weeks of discussion with union leaders. Changes to sixth grade would be limited to moving to six periods. Seventh-graders would take a music class every other day instead of every day and eighth-graders would lose an elective. Only current seventh-graders need to re-register if union members approve the restructuring of the day.

“I realize that what we lose is a little bit of variety in electives,” Superintendent Bill Gronseth said. “I would love to not make this decision, but not making this decision would cause greater harm to class size throughout the district, not just the middle schools.”

Board member Judy Seliga Punyko said she likes that middle school students have course options, and she doesn’t want those reduced.

“I know we are going to lose kids because of this, and it’s frustrating to me,” she said. “I’m having a hard time supporting it.”

Woodland and Morgan Park middle school principals Gina Kleive and Denise Clairmont, respectively, said parents have called with questions about what’s happening and when it will be decided, but few have contacted them about course offering desires.

Choices are hard to make, said member Ann Wasson, but hopefully students can take other choices in high school.

“Whether a short-term fix or longer than we want it to be, it’s a fact … I can feel better as a School Board member knowing you two (Kleive and Clairmont) are behind seeing this through and your staff has made this work.”

The middle school model currently in place was 10 years in the making, Wanner said, and the proposed change would be akin to going back to a junior high model without the junior high.

“We’re willing because of our relationship (with administration) to try our best,” he said. “It’s been a tough road. Frustrations are caused by the difficulty created by the task.”

Wanner said a union vote probably wouldn’t take place before Tuesday’s board vote.