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SSC continues discussion on 4-day school week

OKABENA -- More than 150 people gathered inside the high school gym in Okabena Monday night for continued discussion on the possibility of moving to a four-day school week.

It was the third such public meeting in the Southwest Star Concept school district in the last three weeks. The district is considering the shortened school week as a way to cut $47,000 from its 2009-2010 operating budget. In all, the district needs to cut $100,000 from its nearly $6.5 million budget.

Monday night's meeting provided SSC school superintendent Becky Cselovszki with the opportunity to respond to questions submitted to a special four-day week e-mail account established by the district. Those questions ranged from the cost of extra-curriculars and sports to teacher salaries, and included comments to further consolidate or give voters a referendum. Southwest Star Concept serves Heron Lake and Okabena, with students open-enrolled from other surrounding communities as well.

With plans to make a decision by April 21, SSC board chairman John Stenzel said a special school board meeting will be scheduled for April 6 to give each of the board members an opportunity to share their thoughts on the information gathered.

On Monday night, members of the school board sat mostly in silence as Cselovszki responded to questions and comments received by the district. About half of the two-hour-long meeting was set aside for guest speaker Doug Runia, an elementary school principal in the MACCRAY school district. Runia spoke of the challenges the district faced, and the cost savings since moving to a four-day school week in the fall of 2008.

During Cselovszki's presentation, the first comment to be addressed was the idea of a referendum. Cselovszki explained that an additional $500 per pupil referendum would be needed in addition to the amount of taxes residents already pay to the school district. If a $500 per pupil referendum was approved, it would cost $176 per $100,000 value on property within the school district.

School board member John Volk said, "One-third of our district is a poverty district. Can those people afford the extra tax?"

The referendum and the four-day school week are two of the three options the district is considering. The third choice would be to cut programs, whether it be elective courses, extra-curriculars like the FFA or some of the district's sports offerings.

Maddie Collin, president of the SSC FFA Chapter, stood before the crowd Monday night with tears in her eyes as she spoke of the benefits of being a member of the FFA and being involved in numerous sports in the district.

"I love the FFA," said Collin. "I don't want anything cut. These people in these blue jackets have helped me be what I am today."

Collin said she is seeking a state FFA office this year, and she wants people to know she's a member of the SSC FFA program.

"They came up with this four-day school week because they don't want to see these programs cut," said Collin as several people in the audience cheered.

On the flip side, Sherrie Porth of Heron Lake was there as a parent concerned about the loss of a school day. She posed questions regarding the amount of money spent on sports activities -- sports makes up roughly 6 percent of the district's budget -- and was concerned about the short time frame in which the school board will make a decision.

"I was not comfortable with the fact that we don't have enough financial information to make a decision on a four-day school week," said Porth. "We're all here because we want to see our school survive. It looks like a lot of money gets spent on sports."

School board members first began looking at the feasibility of a four-day school week following a school board conference in January. The first of their community meetings on the issue was on March 9.

While several issues have yet to be ironed out, Cselovszki said if the district went to a four-day week, each school day would be extended by one hour. There would not be school on Mondays, as that would have less of an impact on sporting events.

Cselovszki said a survey will be placed on the school district's Web site this week, and encouraged all residents of the district to complete the questionnaire. The survey asks residents if they prefer a levy referendum, a reduction in programs or the four-day school week option.

"This is not an easy decision," said Stenzel. "In no way will we ever apologize for bringing this question (of a four-day school week) forward. We feel like we are being attacked. We are trying to give people options."

Stenzel said all the school board has asked so far is what will the plan look like and will it be feasible in the SSC district.

Windom, which had also planned a meeting on Monday night to discuss a four-day school week in its district, released a notice Monday saying the meeting was cancelled and that the district would not be considering the option for the 2009-2010 school year.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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