Shorter school year recommended

District officials recommend ending 2017-18 school year earlier

Minneapolis Public Schools may end classes two days earlier than scheduled this spring.

District leaders have proposed a last day of Friday, June 8, for the 2017–2018 school year, eliminating June 11 and June 12 as school days. The change requires School Board approval.

Superintendent Ed Graff said he heard consistently from parents who favored eliminating the final two days. He said the district would work to ensure kids don’t lose out academically because of a shorter school year.

The district will also look for alternatives for families who rely on the district for meals and child care, he said.

Graff and his team based the change partially on their experience last year. A spate of hot days last June had a negative impact on learning conditions in district buildings without air conditioning, he said. The district also saw an increase in student and staff absences as school went later into the month.

“Board members and I got a lot of feedback last year that those June dates were really challenging,” he said at a recent School Board meeting.

Community members were in favor of the proposed change in a recent online survey, Graff said.

Graff’s chief of staff, Suzanne Kelly, noted how the last couple days of school aren’t typically as rigorous academically. She added that the district would work on alternative programming for families that need it for those final days.

Negotiating savings

The proposal comes amid a projected $33 million budget deficit for 2018–2019 and as district leaders negotiate a new contract with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the district’s largest labor union. As part of negotiations, district leaders have proposed eliminating June 11 and 12 as duty days for teachers and reducing their pay 1 percent for 2017–2018.

Graff has said the district could save $1 million for each day it cuts from the calendar. But he’s also stressed that the calendar proposal is completely separate from the bargaining discussions.

“There may be some savings, but that’s not the primary driver for these two days,” Kelly said.

District leaders are also considering calendar changes for 2018–2019, but nothing has been proposed yet. Options could include starting after Labor Day, ending earlier in June or both.

In negotiations, district leaders have proposed allowing for flexibility in the number of teacher-duty days. Their proposal would allow for the reduction of up to 11 duty days annually and a 0.5 percent salary reduction for each day eliminated from the calendar.

The proposal would allow for flexibility on the number of school days, according to negotiators. The district currently has 176 school days a year, 11 above the state-mandated minimum. District negotiators say it’s a number not clearly associated with improved academic outcomes.

Union leaders have rejected both of the district’s worktime proposals. In a written response, they said they don’t want to tie salaries to duty days and, by extension, duty hours.

“If we are hourly employees … we would like to be able to bill for all of the ‘non-duty day’ hours that we spend doing our work,” they wrote.

The district and teachers union have held about six negotiating sessions this fall. Negotiations are scheduled to move into mediation in January.

Shaun Laden, president of the district’s second-largest union, the Minneapolis Federation of Educational Assistants, said his union is willing to negotiate around the calendar for 2017–2018. But it must be part of a total package to settle the contract in a fair and progressive way, he wrote in an email.

“We believe there are many ways to improve student outcomes through our contract,” Laden wrote, “and are looking forward to sharing our ideas with the district.”

Community support

Calendar changes appear to have support within the district community.

As Graff referenced in his comments, two-thirds of respondents to a recent online survey support the proposed change for this school year. Nineteen percent were neutral about the proposed change, and 14 percent were opposed.

Over two-thirds of respondents identified as parents of MPS students, but most were white and lived in South Minneapolis.

Only 30 percent of respondents to a phone survey were favor of changing this year’s calendar. Eighty percent of those respondents were parents of students of color. The group was also more evenly distributed by geography than online respondents.

“What the communities are saying is, ‘We’re opposed unless we have somewhere to put our children,'” Eric Moore, the district’s chief of accountability, innovation and research, recently told the School Board.

State funds are available for out-of-school-time programming, Kelly said. The district wouldn’t fund those programs with general operating revenue, she said.

Reaction also varied on starting next school year after Labor Day. Seventy-two percent of online respondents were in favor, 17 percent were neutral and 11 percent were against it. Forty-four percent of phone respondents were in favor, 30 percent were neutral and 26 percent were against it.

Moore said the results reiterate the importance of engagement and understanding different communities.