Bid by 13 school districts to start early rejectedby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A bid by 13 school districts in southwest Minnesota to start school early this year and share a common calendar has been rejected by the state Education Department.
The districts wanted permission to start August 24, even though state law forbids starting before Labor Day. The aim was to start the same day as nearby colleges to make it easier for high school students who take courses at those colleges.
Those colleges include Minnesota State University-Mankato, all Minnesota West Community College campuses, and Southwest Minnesota State College in Marshall.
Another goal, according to Redwood Falls superintendent Rick Ellingworth, was to add 7 to 10 school days at the beginning of the year so they'd fall before all of the springtime standardized tests, like the ACT, AP tests, and the MCA-II standardized test.
"Testing has become a big deal in Minnesota and once the tests end, the interest level or the engagement level [of students] is just a lot harder to capture," Ellingworth said.
The districts that were seeking the early start for the 2009-2010 were: Adrian, Cedar Mountain; Edgerton, Hills Beaver Creek, Luverne Milroy, Minneota, Mountain Lake, Pipestone, Redwood Area, Springfield, Tracy and Westbrook Walnut Grove.
They were applying to the state under the Flexible Learning Year law, the same law that allowed the MACCRAY district in southern Minnesota to move to a four-day week last year as a way to save money.
Randy Wanke, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Education, said the common calendar districts were rejected because they did not meet all of the requirements of the Flexible Learning Year law.
The agency, Wanke added, "will be providing the districts with more detailed feedback on the review of their proposals and responding to any questions they may have in case they wish to resubmit the proposal for the 2010-11 school year."
The department also signaled a desire that the districts reapply in the rejection letters it sent to districts.
"[The department] is willing to work with your administration to submit a successful application in the future," said Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, in her letter to Adrian Superintendent Roger Graff.
The letter also pointed out that some aspects of the "common calendar" plan could still be executed without state approval, something Redwood Falls superintendent Rick Ellingworth is considering.
The 13 districts will meet again this summer, he said, to discuss what facets might still be possible. "The idea of working together in this way was very real and, I think, unprecedented," Ellingworth. "We've worked together individually - a school here and a school there - but this tied up a lot of the schools in southwest Minnesota.
"It was the whole package that we were excited about, not any one thing."