Monday, April 30, 2007

If You're Going to Have a Blog. . .you have to remember to update it regularly.

Sorry I haven't given the Saturday update until this morning. Saturday morning's conference committee was one of the best conference committee meetings I have witnessed in all my years, some would contend too many, watching education conference committees.

After adopting several relatively minor provisions that were either the same in each bill or only slightly different, the discussion turned to the property tax relief portions of each bill. As a quick reminder, the House bill contains targeted property tax relief delivered through increased referendum and debt service equalization along with a huge increase in the equalizing factor for the total operating capital (which benefits all school districts). The Senate bill contains the consolidated levy, which combines the levies from three revenue programs (total operating capital, transition, and equity), buys them down by $100 million, and spreads a new levy based on ANTC across all school districts. The Senate action, at its base level, recreates some notion of a general education levy.

The discussion around these two varying approaches was both polite and insightful. Both sides appreciated what the other was trying to accomplish and it was a truly illuminating discussion as the conferees worked to find the appropriate place for the property tax in the education system.

In all, well done by the conferees.

There is no formal conference committee meeting today, but three working groups are meeting to develop compromise positions on academic standards, early intervention (including RTI and PBIS), and International Baccalaureate and other programs in the area of educational excellence.

I will post tomorrow's starting time when it becomes available. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

We're Moving Now! Thursday's conference committee saw the first language approvals for the bill that is being jointly developed. Senate and House staff went through the side-by-side comparison section-by-section, with a number of provisions that were either the same or only contained minor language differences but met the same exact purpose gaining approval of the conference committee. It was an arduous process as both sides took the time to make certain the members from the other body understood their provisions. There were numerous interruptions to the conference committee proceedings as members of the House often had to head to the House floor to vote on amendments offered to the statewide smoking ban bill.

The conference committee will not be meeting Friday, but will be meeting on Saturday morning to discuss the property tax relief provisions in both bills. The meeting begins at 9:30 AM and is scheduled to end around noon. The weather is supposed to be absolutely beautiful on Saturday and I know that none of you have anything planned, so it would be a perfect morning to head to the Capitol. Seriously, I look forward to seeing any of you who do decide to stop by.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It was a very interesting conference committee hearing this afternoon, as the Senate used the opportunity to present and discuss their special education provisions. As you are aware, the original Senate bill provides nearly $500 million in special education funding, starting with the $138 million deficiency for the current fiscal year.

Senator Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake), chief author of the Senate legislation, gave a very comprehensive description of the bill and of its importance to school districts throughout Minnesota. Compelling testimony was provided by a number of school board members and education professionals, including the following representatives of SEE member districts: White Bear Lake Special Education Director Barbara Burke, St. Cloud School Board Member Jerry Van Korff (pictured above speaking with Senator Tarryl Clark after the meeting), and Osseo School Board Member (and SEE President-elect) Kim Green.

The message was very clear. If the special education formula is not adequately funded by the state, school district general funds throughout Minnesota will be raided to make up for the shortfall in state funding. There were several handouts provided that I will try to obtain in digital form to distribute to membership.

The conference committee will reconvene tomorrow with the meeting initally scheduled for 1:30 PM. Issues on the House floor will probably force the meeting start back a bit, but it is anticipated that the meeting will be held. The subject matter to be discussed are the policy and funding issues in the side-by-side bill comparison.

Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have regarding the conference committee as it continues its work. I can be reached at 612-220-7459.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Conference Committee Begins. The 2007 E-12 Conference Committee kicks off this afternoon at 1 PM (a mere half hour from now). It appears that the first day will be dedicated to outlining parameters of the conference committee discussion.

The members of the conference committee were named yesterday. They are as follows:


Senator Tarryl Clark (DFL-St. Cloud)
Senatolr Chuck Wiger (DFL-North St. Paul)
Senator Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury)
Senator Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake)
Senator Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista)

Please note that Senate E-12 Education Committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) is not a member of the conference committee. Senator Stumpf recently underwent medical tests that revealed heart-related surgery is necessary. The surgery will take place within the next two weeks. Full recovery is expected, but he will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.


Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville)
Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul)
Representative Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood)
Representative Patty Fritz (DFL-Faribault)
Representative Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport)

Please check back regularly, as I will update the blog at least once a day and probably more than that as the proceedings quicken.

UPDATE: The confererence committee adjourned today after a meeting of about two hours. The bulk of the time was used to discuss the level of budget target that both sets of conferees believe is necessary to put together a balanced bill that truly meets the needs of Minnesota's school districts. It was decided that the conferees will ask legislative leadership for a target in the neighborhood of $950 million. Of course, increased income taxes would be needed to generate the revenue necessary for a budget target of this magnitude.

Legislative leadership will be setting the budget targets for each of the conference committees on Friday, April 27.

The Senate holds the gavel for tomorrow's conference committee meeting and have decided that a discussion of the Senate's special education funding provisions will be the order of the day. The conference committee will begin meeting at 1 PM in Room 112 of the State Capitol.