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Mounds View school changes times by a few minutes — and saves big bucks

Next year, the Mounds View school day will start five minutes earlier and end five minutes later. And while students will probably always watch in agony as the clock ticks toward the last bell, pretty much everybody else is excited about the change.

The extra 10 minutes a day mean Mounds View can do away with unpopular half days, which will become regular school release days. Because buses don’t run when there’s no school, the district will save an estimated $125,000 a year.

“Parents have been asking for this for a long time,” said Barbara Mundis, who had two daughters in Mounds View Public Schools.

Mounds View’s six elementary, three middle and two high schools serve some 10,000 students who live in the cities of Arden Hills, Mounds View, New Brighton, North Oaks, Roseville, Shoreview and Vadnais Heights.

Like many districts, Mounds View has long accommodated teacher training, student testing and other periodic schedule-crashers by scheduling a handful of half days during the school year. The practice is frustrating to parents, who had to figure out how to care for kids for the other half of the day. Making matters worse, the schedule was different for the district’s elementary and secondary schools, so a family with a child in each might end up scrambling to figure out how to transport and occupy kids on twice as many days.

“They were a logistical nightmare,” said Mundis. “It’s easier to plan for a full day off than a half day.”

Administrators were aware of parents’ irritation, but couldn’t figure out how to fix the problem without running afoul of a state law that says school districts cannot reduce the amount of instructional time from the number of hours school was in session in 1996. A longer school year was out of the question: Minnesota says schools can’t start before Labor Day, and Mounds View long ago abandoned an experiment with keeping kids until the third week in June.

“It was awful,” said John Ward, Mounds View’s director of human resources and operations. “The public wasn’t happy, the kids were angry.”

Grateful parents
Curiously, state law does not spell out how many hours school must be in session each year or how those hours are scheduled, just that the number not decrease. This idiosyncrasy means Mounds View schools are in session the equivalent of 168 days a year, while other districts offer a few more or a few less.

On Jan. 12, the Mounds View school board voted to start the new schedule in the 2010-11 academic year. So far, the only feedback board members and administrators report is e-mail from grateful parents.

The move wasn’t prompted by fiscal belt–tightening, but the money the district will save on busing — the equivalent of one and a half teacher salaries — is certainly welcome, Ward added.

Mounds View isn’t the first Minnesota school district to look at reducing busing as a potential budget-healer. Prompted by the high cost of fuel and budget deficits, four rural districts this year switched to a four-day week. MACCRAY, which serves students in the west central communities of Maynard, Clara City and Raymond, added an hour to each remaining day to make up for the shorter week.

Minneapolis Public Schools also recently eliminated half-days for high schoolers and will add 15 minutes to the day at some schools starting next year. The half-days were equally unpopular with Minneapolis parents, said Jackie Turner, MPS’ executive director of student engagement, while the longer school days are an attempt to iron out a scheduling wrinkle that meant longer days for some kids than for others.

Beth Hawkins writes about education and other topics.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Mac Riddel on 01/28/2010 - 09:05 am.

    “The move wasn’t prompted by fiscal belt–tightening, but the money the district will save on bussing — the equivalent of one and a half teacher salaries — is certainly welcome, Ward added.”

    And they’ll save $125K a year. Does that mean Mounds View teachers make an average of $83K a year? I guess that includes benefits, but still seems higher than the norm. I’m not complaining…teachers are an extremely important resource. They SHOULD be paid that amount or more.

  2. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 01/28/2010 - 10:24 am.

    Actually, Mac, I asked Mounds View’s John Ward that same question. He said no, he was counting family benefits and a host of other costs. It’s worth noting, though, that Mounds View’s schools consistently post great results and lure students from neighboring districts and private schools under open enrollment. One can infer that the district has a cadre of skilled teachers.

  3. Submitted by Colin Sokolowski on 01/28/2010 - 11:11 am.

    Thanks Beth. You’re right. Our 2010-2011 average teacher salary is $59,000 and average teacher benefits are $22,000. Average teacher total = $81,000. Mid-market range. To learn more about this cost-saving calendar, visit http://www.moundsviewschools.org.

  4. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 02:13 pm.

    I think it is a step backward. I do I really do. Germany is lengthening their school day by an hour and still keeping up their academic calender.

  5. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 03:55 pm.

    Beth good article. However is there ever any mention of the large number of parents who work in the secondary economy (making 25k per year), that it impossible to be elected in a large urban district unless you get the backing and support of its employees. Interview John Broderick (a retired tteacher and school board member) about what happened to him when he tried to slow the increase in costs. Or eddie phelan publisher of the Pulse or Steve Perry of Minnpost who wrote on education topics almost quarterly.

  6. Submitted by Dick Novack on 01/28/2010 - 05:19 pm.

    It would be helpful to point out that this bonanza for Moundsview comes at the expense of school bus drivers – major members of the secondary economy Mr Buechler mentions above.

    People to whom we entrust very precious cargo.

    School bus drivers are rarely grandparents filling in a little income anymore. It is the sole income for a the majority of drivers/families. It requires very extensive training now-a-days, continuing education and frequent testing.

    Begin with the responsibility: DOT regulations and training are extensive, e.g.: going over the bus before leaving at 5:30 am with a flashlight in below zero temps is more complicated and exhausting than the mechanical elements an airline pilot checks before flying. If something goes wrong the driver not the company mechanics are cited by DOT. A single fine usually exceeds a week or two pay and often accompanied by a CDL license suspension so they can’t work.

    Then the driver drives on icy, snow rutted roads in inconsiderate traffic picking up kids who at anytime can dash in front of the bus. During the ride the driver is a behavior monitor (aka babysitter) for up to 80 kids – something no airline pilot has to do. Kids do jump around and over seats, fight, swear, and other things kids do. Drivers have 2 to 4 times as many kids on each school run than a teacher has in class – sometimes up to 2 hours per each school run. Talk about distracted driving!

    For all this the typical school bus driver earns $25,000 or less per year. We taxpayers subsidize these workers with state medical and welfare costs because their incomes can’t pay for it – except when they are employed directly by a union contract district. Most however work for contractors the schools hire for because districts have learned to take the low bidder. Often no or few paid holidays. All drivers have to sign a state form understanding they can not collect unemployment when off work under Minnesota law (for many that’s all summer, Christmas break etc).

    Compare that $25,000 or less to that $81,000 teacher average or airline pilot wages.

    So that wonderful $125,000 Moundsview is saving will cut further the income of some of the poorest workers around that have to be highly knowlegeable and dedicated. Of course it will just be shifted from school district budgets to to county and state welfare and charity costs because these workers have to cover rent and necessities somehow.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 06:59 pm.

    Beautifully written Mr. Novak too often the powerless have no voice in our triage economy where the bullhorn goes to the higher bidders. Amen amen

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