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Lake Superior schools denied four-day week

For the second time, the state has denied a Lake Superior School District application to switch to a four-day week next school year. The Minnesota Department of Education told the district in a letter Tuesday that under the plan sent in by the di...

Two Harbors High School
Students fill a staircase while switching classes at Two Harbors High School. (File / News Tribune)

For the second time, the state has denied a Lake Superior School District application to switch to a four-day week next school year.

The Minnesota Department of Education told the district in a letter Tuesday that under the plan sent in by the district, students would not get enough instructional time. State law requires that under "flexible learning year programs" -- such as four-day weeks --students get as much or more time in class than under the previous year's schedule.

A spreadsheet provided by the state shows elementary students getting about 50 fewer hours of instructional time. Secondary students would have received 25 to 45 fewer hours. Under the state numbers, the district would need to add two weeks to the yearly schedule to make up the time.

The rejected application is likely a fatal blow for a School Board proposal that was designed to save as much as $250,000 a year.

It wasn't clear Tuesday how instructional time was calculated by the state. School Board members said the information they sent showed no loss in class time. The shorter school week would be accompanied by longer school days.

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The letter signed by Commissioner Alice Seagren also notes that questions remain about the whether the board hosted the required three public meetings to specifically discuss the four-day proposal.

"MDE remains concerned that the content of the hearings veered to discussion of an upcoming levy," the letter stated. "Deeper consultation with community stakeholders is needed."

The budget-challenged district's original application was denied June 10. The district was asked to address seven areas of concern and told to submit a strengthened application for review.

There was a chance that the four-day week could have been allowed this year despite the first denial. Now, with the questions about student class time and public meetings, there likely isn't enough time to make the four-day adjustment.

Superintendent Phil Minkkinen was stunned by the news in June when facing the prospect of lost savings with the four-day week. At the time, he said the denial would "quickly" move the district toward statutory operating debt.

He was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Board member Carol Young­berg of Silver Bay called the news "very upsetting."

"We are trying to be frugal," she said. "What's going to happen when there is no money?"

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