Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One Day on the Road (But I Finally Made it Home Last Night). Apologies to Dave Dudley for my paraphrasing of his country classic, but I logged a few miles yesterday in my 18 divided by 4.5 wheeler. The morning began in Dassel for the fourth of our fifth regional meetings. As per usual, it was held at Hojies Grill and Smoke House on the west edge of beautiful downtown Dassel. In a shameless commercial plug (no payold here, boy I wish!), I want to give Hojies the Brad Lundell (Oops. Talking about myself in the third person. Me and Bo Jackson.) Seal of Culinary Excellence. Nice little backroom for a meeting and one great and reasonably-priced menu. If you're up for a little drive west on Highway 12, check it out.

Meanwhile, back to the less tasty items being cooked up in St. Paul. The discussion in Dassel really keyed into a couple of things that are troubling schools, foremost, a brewing financial crisis. As is the case throughout the state, even many of the districts that passed referendum levies last fall are poised to either make cuts or reduce their unreserved fund balance for the coming year. Further, the fact that special education is being prorated (something we knew was going to happen) and the fact that going to current year funding has made it difficult to deal with "dirty" special education data (something that we might have guessed, but did not know--in Donald Rumsfeld's terminology an "unknowable unknowable"), many school districts are faced with an even more difficult situation.

I wish I could confidently predict that there will be at least some new revenue for school districts in the year ahead, but it is going to be difficult to realize that goal without some luck and outside-of-the-box thinking. There is no question, however, that schools throughout the state are in need of emergency assistance.
Back to St. Paul. I managed to get back to St. Paul to monitor the Senate Education Committee hearing, which featured several very interesting bills. One bill that received a lot of discussion and scrutiny is Senator Chuck Wiger's (DFL-North St. Paul) SF 3574, a bill that would increase the compulsory attendance age (in other words, the age at which a student can drop out) from 16 to 18. This subject has been whacked about over the past two decades and both sides have legitimate arguments in why the age should stay at 16 or be raised to 18. I can assure that every one of those arguments received airing on Monday.
Other bills that were discussed included one calling for the creation of an office of early childhood education (SF 3153--Clark); continuing discussion of proposed changes to the school report card (SF 2882--Rummel); and my favorite, SF 3137 (Saltzman), that would limit the Minnesota Department of Education's ability to make rules. It appears that a compromise will be reached on the latter and MDE's ability will not be totally curbed. I will keep you posted as it moves forward.
On to Faribault. My day ended at the Faribault School Board meeting. Dr. Bob Stepaniak is currently serving as the interim superintendent in Faribault and it was great to see him again. It was also great to meet the new members of the Faribault School Board. I can't say it enough: This is the favorite part of my job! The discussion was lively (more lively than my presentation by far) and the questions were great! Things are busy at the Legislature right now, so it's more difficult for me to get away, but don't hesitate to ask if you'd like me to come out to your district. Given the state of affairs in St. Paul, I may welcome the opportunity to get out of town!
Groovy Tuesday. Don't you mean "Ruby Tuesday." That would be more accurate, but if I'd have written that, I wouldn't have been able to tell you about the time my two brothers got in a shouting-turned-to-shoving match regarding the title of that Rolling Stones' hit. Well, enough of that.
There was a full slate of hearings in the education-related committees today, with meetings of the House Full Education Committee, the Senate E-12 Budget Division, and the House K-12 Funding Division. The House Education Committee perused the MDE technical bill (HF 3316--Mariani) along with HF 2955 (Simon) that tightens up school background checks and HF 3467 (Norton) that modifies the process by which a teacher may take a leave of absence to teach in a charter school.
The Senate E-12 Budget Divsion discussed bills related to facilities. Senator Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) has introduced SF 2834, which would raise the lease levy from $100 per pupil unit to $150 per pupil unit. In the picture at the right, Senator Rosen is joined by (from the left) our old friend Nordy Nelson, currently superintendent in St. James; Dr. Tom Melcher, who needs no introduction; and Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek. SF 2834 would be of great assistance to a number of SEE districts that are growing and may be having difficulty passing bond levies. The lease levy has not been increased in a number of years and, as is the case with a number of education-related expenditures, the price of rental property has risen dramatically.

The House K-12 Funding Division handled HF 3329 (Brynaert), which establishes a new school report card, and HF 3593 (Marquart), which revises how reciprocity agreements between school districts in adjoining states are handled. At left, House Education Chair Representative Carlos Mariani and Representative Marsha Swails, who represents the South Washington County School District, listen attentively to Representative Brynaert's presentation on HF 3329.

Dr. Keith Lester and the Brooklyn Center School District had their bill--HF 3423/SF 3204--heard in both the House and Senate funding divisions. As is well known, Brooklyn Center has had a tremendous amount of difficulty avoiding cuts for the past few years, as it has become hard for them to add to their modest referendum of just over $300 per pupil.

And, as is the case WAY too much these days, I managed to stay on the Capitol grounds until long after dark (which is getting more difficult with the early onset of Daylight Savings Time). I halfway expect to run into Bela Lugosi in the Capitol hallways talking about the "legislators of the night." The Senate Transportation Committee heard three bills related to student transportation this evening, all authored by Senator Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris), shown at right testifying with Captain Ken Urquhart. The bills were:

  • SF 3535--establishing an office of school bus safety.

  • SF 2988--changing training for drivers of Type III vehicles.

  • SF 3561--increasing the allowable weight for a Type A bus.
Each of these bills was recommended to pass, with some likely to be folded into either the omnibus E-12 funding bill or transportation omnibus policy and funding bill. The Type III legislation, which currently exempts teachers and coaches from the stiffened requirements, is of continuing interest to school districts throughout the state. I will keep you posted on its progress.
Interesting Event on the Horizon. I don't subscribe to a large portion of the policy medicine prescribed by the Center for the American Experiment, but I will admit they have some very interesting programs. An upcoming program will be of particular interest to educators, as Dr. Chester "Checker" Finn, Jr., will be in Minneapolis to deliver an address and promote his new book at a lunch on Thursday, March 27. Finn has been a prominent voice in the education reform debate for more than the past quarter century. Agree with him or not, he has been very influential and, having seen him speak before, I can attest that he gives a great presentation.

Check out the link below for further details. Cost is $30 for non-members.

No comments: