In a rare split vote, the St. Michael-Albertville school board voted 3-2 last Monday evening to end the 2018-2019 school year on Tuesday, June 4.
With the addition of the April 11 snow day, the school was set to add a third make-up day and end school on Wednesday, June 5, but school administrators crunched the numbers and decided to recommend June 4 as the last student day and an all-staff development day June 5.
Two school board members, Larry Sorensen and Tim Lewis, wanted to access the state legislature’s Snow Day legislation and end the school year on May 31, as originally planned. The Minnesota state legislature crafted the snow day legislation to give school districts flexibility to count snow days as student contact days this school year due to the excessive cancellations last winter’s weather necessitated. Governor Tim Walz signed it into law earlier this month.
At issue for STMA was the clauses included with the Snow Day legislation, which requires schools to pay support staff and contracted services for any days they access the legislation. That equals about $45,000 per day for STMA, with $27,500 for support staff and $17,000 for their largest contracted service, bussing.
Board member Lewis noted that the $45,000 per day would be paid to support staff and contracted services whether they accessed the legislation or extended the school year from May 31 to June 4. Board member Steffens said she had a hard time spending that money without getting the benefits a school day provides students.
Reasons for Ending May 31
The two dissenting board members pointed to the fact that nearly every canceled school day took place during trimester two, yet the additional days would be in trimester three. This mostly impacts high school students, whose schedule changes each trimester. Between inclement weather days and missed class time for some high school grades to take NWEA tests, trimester two ended up with significantly fewer learning hours compared with the other two trimesters. Lewis and Sorensen, along with board chair Drew Scherber, said it would make more sense to make up missed school days during the trimester they missed it in, perhaps by shortening an existing break within that trimester. Foucault said district leadership would look at the trimester issue for future years.
“I’ve reached out to a lot of people on this and had a lot of people reach out to me, and I’m still struggling to understand the benefit for the kids,” Lewis said, saying he doesn’t feel those two additional days will result in much additional learning for students.
Foucault said she understands there isn’t as much “active learning” going on during the last one or two days of school as mid-year, but she said the added days will allow teachers to continue with active learning through the end of May, where they’d otherwise be doing year-end activities. Middle and high school students may be taking finals up to the last day.
Reasons for Ending June 4
Foucault said the six canceled days resulted in a significant loss of learning hours and said that most grades, K-8, are not as impacted by the trimester system since those students’ schedules, with little exception, do not change throughout the year. She said the administrators agreed that making up two days would be the best option for students. Providing a staff development day June 5 gives support staff another paid day that they are owed, while saving $17,000 because the district doesn’t pay for contracted services during a non-student day.
Administratively, accessing the legislation would result in a significant number of office staff hours to remedy the logistical side of the issue. to In order to receive full paychecks during weeks with snow days, hourly staff often used a combination of vacation, personal time and PTO time. If the district were to access this legislation and thus pay hourly staff for those days, Foucault said the district’s limited human resource department would have to go through each hourly employee’s records to reverse the various forms of paid time off hours.
“We are very short-staffed as it is, and it would take considerable time,” Foucault said, while noting this issue wasn’t a main reason behind the recommendation to add two days to the original calendar.
The school board voted 3-2 to adopt the district’s recommendation to end school June 4. Scherber, Hollee Saville and Steffens voted in favor, Lewis and Sorensen dissented and Kari Dwinnell was absent.
Graduation remains on May 31, and high school seniors will not have to report back to school after graduation.