After further school closures resulting from extreme winter weather, the Eau Claire school board on Monday decided to extend the school year, begin earlier start times for middle and high schools and cut North High School’s lunch period by five minutes.
Students are now scheduled to attend school June 10 and 11. From March 11 to June 7, high schoolers will begin school each day 16 minutes earlier and middle schoolers 8 minutes earlier. In addition, North students’ lunch period will be shortened by five minutes between March 11 and June 7.
The motion, which carried 6-1 with board member Lori Bica dissenting, also included plans to add school days to the end of the school year in the event of further inclement weather days.
At its last meeting on Feb. 18, the board moved to add three additional days to the district’s academic calendar to make up for seven district closures and two delayed start days.
But after two more district-wide school closures Feb. 20 and 25, a closure at North High School last Tuesday due to a power outage and a delayed start on Wednesday, the district has additional instructional time to recover, said schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck.
After a total of nine district-wide school closures and three delayed starts this winter, elementary schools are in need of one additional day of instructional time, middle schools and Memorial High School need three days and North needs four days.
“This is going to be a difficult decision,” Hardebeck said. “Somebody’s going to be unhappy. Everybody’s going to be impacted.”
The board considered three options to make up the missed instructional time, electing to select none in their original form after about an hourlong decision.
“They’re all bad options, so it’s identifying the least bad ones,” board President Joe Luginbill said just before the vote. “We did what we had to do.”
The first option, with a maximum projected cost of $25,000, was to add minutes to the school day as needed. Under that option, high schools would have started 30 minutes earlier and middle schools 20 minutes earlier. The plan would also have included shortening North’s lunch period by 5 minutes from March 11 to June 7.
While the option would allow the district’s summer school program to remain intact, the school calendar would not be extended and it would save the district about $65,000 in transportation costs, challenges would have included major scheduling changes for families and staff, bus routes starting as early as 6 a.m. and more.
The second option was to cancel spring break, repurposing the days into student and professional development days. At the elementary school level, March 25-27 would have become professional development days. For the middle schools, March 25-26 would have become student days and March 27 a professional development day. For Memorial High School, March 25-27 would have become student days; for North, March 25-28 would have become student days.
Under that proposal, students would be able to fully recover days of instruction before Advanced Placement testing and other high-stakes assessments, the summer school program would remain intact and it would be cost neutral for transportation.
However, many families and staff of the district likely have made spring break plans, Hardebeck told the board. Staff would be forced to take pay deductions or use personal time off if they’d already scheduled vacations. On top of that, the district was unsure if it would have enough substitutes to cover those absences.
The third option was to extend the school year in order to make up lost instructional time. For elementary schools, June 10-12 would have become professional development days and for the middle schools, June 10-11 would have become middle school student days with June 12 as professional development. Memorial would have had additional student days June 10-12, and North June 10-13.
Because that option would interfere with the summer school program, the district estimated it would lose $310,000 in revenue.
The costs associated with the board’s Monday decision were unclear as of press time.
Board member Laurie Klinkhammer was absent from the Monday meeting.