Shorter school year? Burnsville-Eagan-Savage parents not so sure

/ 18 April 2012 / jennifer

Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, April 18, 2012 –

Residents of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district expressed a mix of skepticism and frustration Wednesday night, April 18, over a proposal to modify the academic calendar to help bridge a looming budget gap.

Business Manager Lisa Rider of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district speaks about the district’s budget during a session with parents and residents at the Diamondhead Education Center in Burnsville on Wednesday night, April 18, 2012. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Administrators have proposed shortening the school year by 17 days and making up the time by adding 36 minutes to each school day. Time for instruction would not change, but the district would save nearly $800,000 in busing, food service and other costs.

A recently modified state statute now mandates the number of hours of student instruction rather than the number of school days. More than a dozen districts have moved to a shortened school week largely because of budget constraints.

Burnsville parents who attended Wednesday’s public forum were skeptical of the proposed changes. They worried how students’ staying home every other Monday would affect working parents who would need to make child care arrangements.

They also wondered whether the added time each day would make up for the loss of 17 school days over the year or if students would suffer academically.

“At what point in time do kids get burnt out? Is adding that extra time each day really going to help get them ahead?” asked Melissa Stone, a Burnsville parent.

Superintendent Randall Clegg said Burnsville, like many districts nationwide, is dealing with new budget realities. State funding has leveled off and enrollment, which largely drives district revenue, has dropped by nearly 2,000 students in the past decade.

Yet inflation continues to drive up the cost of operation. To keep district spending flat, as much as $5 million must be cut from the budget each of the next three years, according to district budget documents.

School leaders must think differently in order to continue to fulfill the district’s mission, Clegg said. “The reality is, we can’t continue doing what we have always done and expect different results.”

Reducing the number of school days would save money and give teachers 17 more days for professional development that could help improve achievement.

“All the research clearly indicates that when you provide teachers more time for planning, achievement goes up,” Clegg said.

Some residents expressed frustration because they felt the proposed budget reductions did not include enough cuts to administrative positions or salaries.

“Why don’t you guys put some skin in the game,” asked Tom McCasey, a Burnsville resident. “This is unbelievable.”

Board members will hear from community members two more times before making a final decision in early June. State law requires that the district approve a budget by June 30.

Clegg acknowledge that if community members were strongly opposed to the modified calendar, the board might not move forward with the idea.

“It may die in flames, but at least we had the conversation,” Clegg said.

Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/cmaganPiPress. Read our blog: Ahead of the Class at blogs.TwinCities.com/education.

http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_20429038/shorter-school-year-burnsville-eagan-savage-parents-not