The Sleepy Eye Schools received a letter from Dr. Brenda Cassellius on Monday denying the Sleepy Eye School District a Four-Day for a second time. Staff, Board Members and Administration from SE School had meet with Cassellius last week to appeal her original decision

The following is a copy of the letter from the Dept. of Education:

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and your team and to gain a greater

understanding of the Sleepy Eye Public Schools Flexible Learning Year district application for a four-day week. Thank you for all you do for students in your community. I am impressed by the enthusiasm of your staff and commitment of your board members in support of your school.

I appreciate hearing your concerns and learning more details about your plans for implementing the four-day week, the fiscal status of the district, and the process used for this request so that I have a better understanding of your application. I also understand the difficulty of having your community vote down an operating referendum and the impact that may cause to your district, especially after putting so much effort and time into the proposal.

After further review of the information and the details discussed in the meeting, my concerns remain and I cannot approve this application at this time.

In the meeting it was stated that the primary issue driving this request was fiscal and that by going to a four-day week the district will save $80,000. MDE records indicate that the district has a $1.6 million fund balance and that this is 31.53 % of your general fund expenditures. This compares to a statewide average of 20.91 %. The need to save $80,000 in comparison to the size of the fund balance does not create an urgent situation fiscally for the district, especially in lieu of the significant changes being proposed to your school calendar and the potential impacts upon student achievement and families.

In addition, it was unclear in our discussions how the district is accounting for the increased revenues resulting from the additional $100 formula increase, the new small school(s) revenue, integration revenues and the new funding from literacy aid that was part of last year’s legislation.

Furthermore, I have additional concerns driven, first and foremost, by needs of the students in the district. Some of these concerns were cited in my original letter and persist after our meeting.

The most pressing of these concerns are:

  • Achievement goals: As discussed in the meeting, these goals need to be aligned with the state’s new accountability measures and should be more aggressive, especially in your subgroups of students.
  • Student time out-of-school/fifth day: It is unclear what the expectations for learning activities and opportunities are for students, when they are not in school on that fifth day. Will teenagers be engaged in rigorous homework and other learning projects? Will there be adequate and appropriate supervision of younger students? Also, how does the district propose to handle the needs of special education students on the fifth day? I am also concerned about lost instructional time in the middle and high school schedule.
  • Student nutritional needs: I expressed concerns about meeting the nutritional needs of students. With over 50% of the students in the district on free or reduced priced lunches, these students will potentially miss both breakfast and lunch one day each week. There needs to be sufficient time to eat breakfast when the students are in school for a longer day and nutritious snacks provided.
  • Staff time: It is unclear how teacher time is enhanced by a four-day work week and it appears from our discussions that staff will not be expected to report on most of the days when students are off. How is this reflected in the teacher contract? Do teachers then have fewer contract days and does this new schedule increase their daily rate of pay? What is the impact on other staff? Do they have fewer days of employment and will this reduce their access to benefits?
  • Evaluation. Although not discussed in the meeting, I continue to have concerns about the process proposed for feedback and evaluation. There appears to be an over­reliance on stakeholder satisfaction rather than measures that clearly tell MDE the level of academic gains, the positive impact on students or the financial savings that would justify having the district continue the Four-Day Week.

Should you choose to continue pursuing this option for the 2013-14 school year, you will need to revise your current application. I would encourage you to thoroughly address the issues that have been raised. Please be aware that our staff is available as resources for you in this process.

Sincerely,

Dr. Brenda Cassellius Commissioner

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