Secondary students in the Prior Lake-Savage district will choose from fewer elective courses and see a variety of other changes next fall if the school board approves a plan to change daily schedules at their schools.

The plan calls for Prior Lake High School and the district's two middle schools to switch from seven daily class periods to six. The schools would also switch from trimesters to quarters.

The new schedule would save the district up to $1.45 million a year by enabling it to cut the equivalent of 23 teachers. It's a step that school administrators say they need to take in light of the state budget crisis, which is affecting schools across Minnesota.

A study group that included teachers, parents and principals came up with the plan after the school board asked them to develop a six-period schedule this spring. The school board is likely to vote on that detailed proposal next month.

The plan is a "logical, sustainable" way to weather tough times while still giving students a rigorous education, said Dave Lund, principal of Prior Lake High School.

Here's why the switch would save money, he said: In a seven-period day, teachers typically teach five periods. In a six-period day, they often still teach five periods. As a result, fewer teachers are needed to run a six-period building.

Lund and other principals pointed out that they're not alone. A number of metro-area schools already have six-period schedules, including Edina and Minnetonka high schools. Others, such as Spring Lake Park High School, are considering the switch to save money.

One clear downside of the plan: "We're going to lose some very fine staff," Lund said.

School start and end times would not change in the new schedule. Because each period would be slightly longer in a six-period day, students would get more time in core classes.

However, "students will have [fewer] choices than they do now, and less flexibility in their schedule," Lund said.

The high school plans to offer some zero-hour classes to help students fit in more electives. "It won't be the same," Lund said, "but it will at least open up some flexibility for those students who choose to come in an hour early."

The high school also plans to cut back on some graduation requirements to free up time for electives, he said. For example, instead of requiring four years of social studies, Prior Lake High would drop back to the three-and-a-half years required by the state. The school would also require one year of physical education and health, combined, instead of two.

Middle school students would also choose from fewer elective courses under the new schedule, said Sasha Kuznetsov, principal of Hidden Oaks Middle School. Some classes that are currently required, such as 7th-grade art and 8th-grade physical education, would become optional.

Sixth-graders would take social studies every other day instead of daily. At the same time, the middle schools plan to expand world language classes, offering year-long lessons to most students.

Principals said last week that they don't know which teachers will lose their jobs if the schedule change is approved. That's partly because student registration will drive decisions about which courses are cut.

Teachers are working hard to get ready for the change, Kuznetsov said. "They're doing the best they can to rise to the challenge."

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016