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UPDATE: School Board votes to extend school day rather than have classes in June

By Sue Dieter

Sun Tribune

The school day will be longer, but the school year won't, following a vote by the Morris Area School Board Monday night.

The board had voted earlier this year to hold classes on March 20 and April 13 to make up for days lost because of winter weather and noted that if there were any additional snow days, they would have to consider extending the school year. But after considerable deliberation, board members unanimously voted to add minutes to each school day rather than hold classes in June. They also asked the administration to add enough time to each day to allow students and staff to have vacation on April 13.

Superintendent Scott Monson offered seven suggestions for the board to consider. The options are:

• Add 16 minutes to each day to make up for the time lost as well as to "bank" time in case of any additional snow days. If no additional snow days are needed, the last day of school would be May 28.

• Add 8 minutes to each day to make up for the lost time.

• Hold school on June 1-2 and reinstate vacation on April 13.

• Give up additional late starts for the remainder of the school year and use those hours as make-up time.

• Make up the days by having staff development/workshop time without students.

• Have school on June 1.

• Don't make up the lost days.

Monson said option 7 is really not an option because the district would risk losing state aid. He told the board that there is no right or wrong answer, but felt option 6 was the best alternative, saying it makes the best use of resources and is better for students. He noted that there will be extra cost for transportation for that day, but it will more than pay for itself. Monson noted that adding minutes to each day will extend the work day for some staff such as para educators. He calculates that the personnel costs outweigh the transportation costs 2 to 1.

Board member Dick Metzger asked about holding classes on a Saturday. Monson replied that he felt attendance would be at best 65 percent on a Saturday.

Board chair Kurt Gartland questioned if the students and staff would be motivated to come back for one day in June.

High School principal Mike Coquyt responded that he is considering a mini-course day for the last day of classes. He explained that students would have the opportunity to take four mini-courses in areas such as archery, ultimate Frisbee, golf, volleyball or fishing. He felt this would be exciting for both the students and the staff.

Board member Stan Wulf said that he favored adding minutes to the day, because he felt bringing the students back in June would be a bigger negative than the board wants to create. "There's a hidden cost to that," Wulf said.

Board member Mark McNally added that the staff would prefer adding minutes and he felt it was worthwhile to take their preference into account.

Monson questioned how many minutes to add to each day and whether to start classes earlier or just add time to the end of the day.

Board members generally agreed that it would be hard to start too much earlier, because of the bus schedules and agreements with St. Mary's and Cyrus schools.

McNally made the motion to lengthen the school day, but left it to Monson, Coquyt and elementary principal Brad Korn to work out the exact schedule. The board has a special meeting scheduled for April 2 at which time they will approve an extended schedule.

The measure was approved on a unanimous voice vote.

In other board action:

Morris became one of the many districts throughout the state to voice its opposition to national No Child Left Behind standards.

On a 4-3 vote, the board voted in favor of a Federal Advocacy Resolution calling for Congress and the Minnesota Legislature "to take action on the reauthorization and reframing of the federal education statute."

The resolution was sent to school districts throughout the state by the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA). As of March 17, 100 school boards had passed the resolution, including Chokio-Alberta, Hancock and West Central Area.

The board tabled action on the resolution at their February meeting. During that meeting, several board members expressed concern over the wording of the resolution, which states in part, that standards and accountability systems are best assigned as the constitutional responsibility of States rather than a federal standard.

Board member Laura Carrington questioned if there might be negative consequences to approving the resolution.

Monson replied that if the board chose not to approve the resolution, it might appear that they think NCLB is OK and "let me tell you, it's not."

Carrington replied that there's no guarantee that anything better will be proposed.

Wulf stated that the board needed to get the message out that they are unhappy with NCLB and needs to ask for change. He offered the motion to approve the resolution, with a second by Lory Lemke. Dick Metzger and James Solvie also voted in favor of the resolution, with Gartland, Carrington and McNally opposed. Monson said a MASA delegation is traveling to Washington D.C. in April to lobby for Minnesota districts on the issue.