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ACGC superintendent explores the option of a 4-day week to save cash

Sherri Broderius, ACGC superintendent, holds an envelope with the top questions she gets asked about a proposal to implement a four-day school week. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

ATWATER -- Sherri Broderius carries a manila envelope with the words "4 Day Week" printed in bold letters on the front.

Inside the envelope are six most frequently asked questions the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School superintendent fields when discussing whether the district should consider implementing a four-day school week.

She stresses that school administrators are simply in the preliminary stages of exploring the option and the move is "not a done deal."

The school board is expected to hear a report on the proposal tonight and decide whether or not to continue the exploratory process with additional research.

A more definitive vote could come Feb. 22.

In an effort to get the information out to community leaders, Broderius made a presentation Monday to the Atwater City Council.

It was best to get the information from the source, she said, while inviting the councilmen to reach into the envelope and draw out one of the top questions written on slips of paper.

ACGC emerged in 2008 from three years of statutory operating debt -- the state's term for a budget deficit that exceeds state limits, but the district is still working with a very lean budget.

Broderius said the district is cutting every corner possible, including making simple changes in what color paper is purchased in order to save a few hundred dollars.

"The small cuts aren't cutting it anymore," she said, which is why the district is considering closing the schools down for one day a week and condensing five days of education into four days.

She estimates the district could save $150,000, primarily through reduced busing, heating and energy costs.

A savings of $150,000 is "nothing" in light of the district's $7 million budget, said Atwater Mayor Bruce Baker, who wondered if the drastic schedule change was worth the savings.

"Nothing is relative," responded Broderius. That kind of money could restore educational programs that were cut to get out of debt, she said.

Based on the experiences of other Minnesota schools that have implemented the four-day week, including neighboring MACCRAY, Broderius said there could be other benefits to a four-day week.

There are typically fewer absences by students and teachers because they use the off day for medical appointments and the like, rather than scheduling them during the school week. Teacher in-service days could also be held on the off day.

Broderius said the question she gets asked the most concerns how a four-day week would affect families who need day care.

Because the school day would run longer, she said some families would not need day care before and after school, which could result in savings. Having a three-day weekend could also provide beneficial family time, she said.

Other common questions address how a short week affects the education of children and how teacher contracts are handled.

If ACGC does move ahead with the plan, Broderius said the week would likely run Tuesday through Friday.

She said there would still be time to implement the plan by this fall.