School calendar shuffle draws crowd in Burnsville

/ 18 April 2012 / jennifer

Herón Márquez Estrada, Star Tribune, April 18, 2012 –

Parents expressed concerns over the effects of a plan to save money by trimming 17 days of school.

More than 100 people showed up in Burnsville Wednesday night to listen to school officials explain possible dramatic changes to the school calendar that could include four-day weeks and an early end to the school year.

The changes being discussed by the Burnsville school district involve eliminating 17 days of school to save about $800,000.

The possible schedule changes created concerns among some parents about increased day-care costs and whether the quality of their kids’ education will suffer.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first chance parents and others had to voice opinions on the possible changes, part of an overall district effort to cut $5 million next school year and $15 million over the next three years.

“Instead of decreasing they should be increasing the amount of time that kids are in school,” said Dawn Logelin, a parent at the meeting.

Under one of the possible scenarios, students would get just about every other Monday off through reliance on four-day school weeks.

In another scenario students would be sent home for their summer vacation before the Memorial Day holiday.

“They have to find another way,” said Cesar Torres, who has two children in the district. “They have to find other options. It might be difficult, but they have to find other options.”

District officials stressed that the changes are necessary to fix the budget. They also stressed that students would be receiving the same amount of instruction time because the school day would be lengthened by 36 minutes.

The district expects to reach the bulk of its savings from lower transportation costs, with not running buses so often, as well as reduced food service expenses, lower utility bills, fewer custodial costs and less use of substitute teachers.

“We have to think about doing more with less,” Lisa Rider, the district’s director of finance, told the audience.

But that did not seem to sway many people, some of whom asked pointed questions about district finances.

Logelin said she is concerned that her son Zack, who is in the fifth grade, and other students will also suffer from extending the school day to make up for those 17 days.

“I think children learn better in shorter periods of time,” she said. “By the end of the day their learning ability has gone down to zero.”

In the next two weeks there will be several meetings with teachers and staff, as well as two more community meetings. The next ones are scheduled for April 26 at Rahn Elementary School in Eagan and May 1 at the Savage City Hall.

District officials have said that they would forgo the changes if there is too much negative feedback.

If the school board gives students regular days off, the Burnsville district likely would be the first metro-area school district and the largest in the state to use a four-day school week on a regular basis or end the school year so early.

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281