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Pelican Rapids considers four-day week

On the heels of three failed attempts to pass an operating levy, the Pelican Rapids (Minn.) School District is exploring a switch to a four-day school week next fall.

By a conservative estimate, district officials say, the change could save just shy of $100,000 in transportation, utility and substitute teacher costs. That would help spare two teaching positions next spring and ward off a spike in class sizes.

Board members say the four-day switch wouldn't be on the table if residents had endorsed a $700-per-pupil levy in May. Taxpayers narrowly defeated the proposal, the district's third in less than two years.

"Quite frankly, we wouldn't do this if it weren't for the money," said School Board member Charlie Blixt, a self-described advocate of the change. "Nobody wants to go to a four-day week."

Blixt added the board appears torn on the issue. "It's not an easy decision to make," Blixt said.

In considering a transition to a four-day week, Pelican is on a tight timeline. It's already sponsored two of the three public meetings it needs to host to apply for state permission to switch. The last meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 8 in the elementary gym. The board will decide later in July.

Four Minnesota school districts now have a four-day week, and more are gearing up to try it out this fall. Earlier this spring, Norman County East school leaders decided to delay switching after vocal community opposition to the proposal.

Pelican officials said they got encouraging feedback from counterparts in four-day-week districts: no apparent effect on academics, improved attendance, and increased instruction time overall.

"It's not like we're reinventing anything," board Chairman Don Perrin said. "We're just looking at what other districts have done and seeing if it might be a good fit for us."

The board will weigh the possible savings against concerns residents expressed at the public meetings so far: lining up child care on the extra day off and fitting in extracurricular activities after a longer school day, among others.

Perrin worries some parents will enroll their children in neighboring districts if there is a shift.

"But if we have higher class sizes," he said, "they might be just as likely to open-enroll."

Overall, board members said the community seems open to the switch.

"I'd say the majority of the folks - I wouldn't say they are pro-four-day week, but they aren't against it," Blixt said.