SLEEPY EYE - The Minnesota Department of Education (MnDE) Commissioner responded to an April 25 visit to her office by the Sleepy Eye Public School Four-Day School Week team with a letter to Superintendent John Cselovszki dated April 30, 2012.
The April 25 visit to the MnDE office was prompted by Dr. Brenda Cassellius' denial of the school district's four-day school week application last month.
Cassellius thanked Cselovszki for the opportunity to meet with the team to gain a greater understanding of the district's Flexible Learning Year 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," Cassellius wrote. "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."
She added that after further review of the information and details discussed at the meeting, her concerns remain, and that she can't approve the application at this time.
Cassellius cited MnDE records that indicate District 84 has a $1.6 million fund balance that is 31.53 percent of general fund expenditures, which compares to a statewide average fund balance of 20.91 percent of general fund expenses.
"The need to save $80,000 (by adopting a four-day school week) in comparison to the size of the fund balance does not create an urgent situation fiscally for the district, especially in lieu of significant changes being proposed to your school calendar, and the potential impacts upon student achievement and families," Cassellius wrote.
She added that it was unclear in discussions how the district is accounting for increased revenues from the additional $100 formula increase, new small schools revenue, integration revenue, and new literacy aid funding that was part of last year's legislation.
Cassellius wrote that her most pressing additional concerns in the district were achievement goals, student time out-of-school on the fifth weekday, student nutritional needs, staff time, and evaluation.
Her letter added that achievement goals need to be aligned with the state's new accountability measures and should be more aggressive, especially in student subgroups.
Cassellius asked how special education students' needs would be met on the fifth day.
She wrote that if the district chooses to continue pursuing the (four-day-week) option for the 2013-14 school year, it will need to revise its application. Cassellius added that MnDE staff is available as resources to assist in the process.
In an April 27 email summarizing the meeting with Cassellius, Cselovszki said the district team agreed to disagree with many items of contention.
"We continued to advocate for local control, a pro-active approach to our financial situation, and the added benefits to our staff development initiatives as well as increased time for math, reading and science subjects," Cselovszki wrote. "At the end, we asked for fair treatment and a level playing field since the issues raised are issues for all schools that have already been approved. Her response was that those schools were approved by a different commissioner."
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).