Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle. Yes, the Legislature is back in session in what promises to be a whirlwind of activity on both the policy and political fronts. Unfortunately, the latter may trump the former in terms of making progress in a number of crucial issue areas.

The first issue that is going to receive attention is transportation. The House and Senate majorities are assembling a major transportation funding package that includes an increase in the gas tax of 7.5 cents (phased-in over the next year and with the 2.5 cents being phased-out as highway building bonds are retired) and a sales tax increase for metropolitan area transit. The fireworks over the bill are already starting, as seen in this article from the Star Tribune:

The other big issue is going to be the bonding bill, which, when all is said and done, may reach a record level of $1 billion (or as Dr. Evil would say "one beeeeeel-iun" dollars). A lot of early-session committee time is dedicated to possible bonding projects and the Osseo school district was one of a handful presenting their proposal (HF 2708--a bill that would create a North Hennepin Family Center to provide a wide range of family and education-related services) to the House K-12 Funding Division on Tuesday afternoon. Superintendent Susan Hintz (pictured with HF 2708 Chief Author Representative Deb Hilstrom (D-Brooklyn Center) and Osseo School Board Member Lin Myszkowski) did an excellent job outlining the student needs that could be met by such a center.

Another education issue that is going to be discussed thoroughly during the 2008 Legislative Session is that of facilities. Representatives Tim Faust (D-Mora) and John Benson (D-Minnetonka) have held several meetings throughout the state discussing this issue. These meetings have taken the shape of informal idea-sharing/brainstorming sessions instead of formal legislative hearings and it's provided an opportunity for discussion of some of the major facilities challenges currently facing school districts. I was honored to be one of those invited to share my perspectives at the Mora meeting. That particular meeting looked like a SEE subcommittee as staff from Mora, Princeton, Pine City, Hutchinson, and Sauk Rapids-Rice (plus I know I'm forgetting somebody) were there.

I would like to really offer my thanks to Brian Mohr, the Director of Building, Grounds, and Student Transportation for the Hutchinson school district, for his tireless efforts on pushing the school facilities issue to the forefront. The picture at the left shows Brian with Representatives Faust and Benson along with Ehlers and Associates representative Gary Olson (who needs no introduction) continuing the facilities discussion after the Mora hearing. School facilities, as we all know, often have to take a back seat to more pressing student needs. With money increasingly tight in school districts throughout the state, the problem only becomes more keen. Hopefully, as comprehensive funding reform is discussed, we will be able to include funding provisions that will spare school districts from having to pit buildings against students when making budget decisions.

That's it for this entry. I'll be back with my view on the State of the State Address tomorrow and perhaps, just perhaps, an update on the Podcast Project!

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