The educational experiment known as the flexible learning year (FLY) in the Redwood Area School District has come to an end.

After a 6-1 vote, with school board member Jim Buckley voting against, the Redwood Area Board of Education has opted to begin the 2019-20 school year after Labor Day.

The FLY schedule, which allowed the local school district to begin its school year 10 days prior to the post Labor Day mandated start date, had been in place for the past nine school years having been approved by the Minnesota Department of Education, via an application process, three separate times.

After hosting three public hearings, the last which was held just prior to the start of its Dec. 17 meeting, the board talked about the decision early on during its meeting.

The FLY concept was established by the state, and its requirements are established in Minnesota Statute 124. Under that statute a flexible learning year program must be designed to accomplish at least one of the following:

• Improving instructional quality.

• Increasing cost-effectiveness.

• Making better use of community resources or available technology.

• Establishing an alternative eligibility criteria intended to identify pupils in need of special education services.

Members of the school board indicated they do not believe there is evidence to demonstrate that the school district is meeting those requirements. 

Wayne Junker, school board member and former educator, said in his experience as a teacher he knows students are ready to start school in August, and they are ready to be done with school before Memorial Day.

Yet, he added, the school has not met the standard when it comes to the regulations of the FLY statute. Junker added there are much more important issues that the school district and the community need to address.

“We are a hurting community,” said Junker. “So many of our kids are hurting, and addressing that is so much more important than FLY.”

The impression the majority of the board gave during the meeting is that they didn’t think it was worth moving forward with the application for the fourth FLY program simply because they didn’t think it would be approved because the district has not met the burden of proof.

Jim Buckley, school board member and the lone dissenting vote, stated he still maintained his support for FLY, because he believes that it is what is best for the students and the staff.

“This is not about lake cabins,” said Buckley, adding no one can say having 10 days added to the school year before the standardized testing is a bad thing.

Other members also expressed their support for the flexible learning year.

“I wish the test scores would have gone up,” said Tim Joyce.

Joyce added he thinks the school board needs to have a serious discussion about how to proceed, adding maybe now is the time for it to begin working with the state legislature to change the state law that requires the school year starts after Labor Day.

Buckley said the Minnesota School Board Association has made that a priority for years, but nothing has changed.

The board expressed concern about having students still in school in June.

“Kids today are under a lot of stress and pressure,” said Joyce, adding while that may not be as evident at the elementary level it definitely manifests itself with high school students.

He added they need that clean break during the year to just take a breath. The fact that the first semester would not end now until after the Christmas break does not allow for that.

The board recognized making the change is going to be a shock to the students and the staff. The majority of them have never experienced a different schedule.

In fact, next year’s seniors would have been in the third grade when the FLY program began.

“May is going to be tough,” admitted Junker.

The board will now look to create a different calendar for the 2019-20 school year.

Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent, said the school year must include 174 student days, adding, unless a number of non-student contact days are cut from the schedule, getting a calendar to have a May finish is going to be almost impossible.

The board will continue its 2019-20 calendar discussion at future meetings.

In other action during its meeting, the school board:

• Assigned the school district general fund balances. As of June 30, 2018, the unassigned fund balance for the district is $2,316,980. The board also has an assigned fund balance of $1,350,372, with $1,115,450 of that funding classified as restricted meaning it can only be used for specific programs.

• Accepted the resignation of Morgan Hagert from her position as the varsity girls tennis coach.

• Approved the employment of Katlin LeClaire as an alternative learning program staff member teaching Algebra II and geometry for the second semester for an estimated 180 hours, as well as approving 15 hours of teaching time for the early childhood family education staff to help teenage parents.

• Approved the employment of Skylar Dehncke, Tayte Harazin, Caitlyn Johnson and Amy Martius as Reede Gray Elementary School paraprofessionals as part of the career mentorship program. Each will work Monday through Friday from 9:50 until 10:20 a.m. at a rate of $9.50 per hour.