Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Day. I know a number of you were able to take the day off and I hope you had a chance to relax and refresh, as we're all back in the saddle tomorrow. The legislature (in fact, all of state, federal and most local governments) was closed today. With the inauguration tomorrow, it will be another light schedule at the Legislature as a number of legislators will be in Washington, D.C., to commemorate President-elect Obama's swearing-in as President.

One fairly notable hearing will be held tomorrow afternoon in the House K-12 Funding Division chaired by Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville). Representative Greiling will be taking testimony from a number of education interest groups regarding their 2009 priorities and legislative initiatives. I will be testifying and hope to make a number of points regarding SEE's short-term and long-term priorities. It will be interesting to see where everyone else comes down on the issues facing the state, but my guess is that we all will stress the difficulty we will be facing in the coming two years without any increase in the revenue we get or relief from some of the mandates--especially those that are unfunded--that force school districts to deliver services in a manner that may not be the most cost-efficient.
One point I will be making is that the equalization factors for the operating levy and debt service equalization programs have not been improved in fifteen years. With the number of districts going before the voters likely to be considerable this coming November, enhancing the equalizing factors may be something that will have to be studied. With the extreme revenue shortfall, leveraging any state revenue to assist in moderating the property tax burden in low property wealth school districts will be difficult, but it should at least be discussed.
I will report on the testimony in tomorrow's blog.
Speaking of Unfunded Mandates. I have been working with other education interest groups assembling a list of mandates that are making life more difficult for school districts. This work was done in response to the meeting many of us had with the Governor and legislative leadership about two weeks ago. At that meeting, we were urged by all of the decisionmakers present that they would welcome and seriously consider the results of such a "mandate safari."
The document resulting from our work will be available tomorrow and I will forward it to Deb and hopefully there is a way that each SEE member district will be able to have it no later than Wednesday. Please take a look at the list when it becomes available and let me know if there are any additions you would like to make.
Two Movies This Weekend. With the holiday weekend, my wife and I got to see two movies. Friday night, it was Last Chance Harvey starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson (pictured at left). This is a sweet little movie (especially for those who have hit age 50), but this could have easily turned into something more syrupy than a vat of Mrs. Butterworth's if not for the efforts of Hoffman and Thompson. The story revolves around Harvey Shine's (Hoffman's character) trip to London for his daughter's wedding. Harvey's ex-wife, portrayed expertly by Kathy Baker, isn't making things comfortable for Harvey and it grinds him pretty much down to a nub, so much that Harvey decides to blow off his daughter's wedding reception to fly back to New York to attend to some pressing business issues. The airline industry isn't cooperating, however, and Harvey is stuck in London. Harvey has a chance encounter with Kate Walker, played by Thompson, and from that point forward the movie accelerates (but with no car chases).
Defiance is the other movie we saw this weekend. Based on a true story, Defiance is the story of the Bielski brothers and their almost superhuman efforts to keep Jews alive in Belorussia during the early stages of World War II. When I say superhuman, I mean it. The efforts these brothers made on behalf of the disenfranchised Jewish population are simply astounding. The movie stars Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber (pictured at right) as Tuvia and Zus Bielski, the elder pair of the three Bielski brothers. The Bielskis initially saved a handful of evicted Jews while they themselves were hiding in the forest. Word spread quickly of the Bielski's settlement in the forest as persecution of the Jews increased as the Nazis and soon the brothers found themselves trying to make a life for hundreds of refugees.
Word of the Bielskis also spread to the Nazis, who sought out the camp in an attempt to destroy it and take the Jews who sought refuge there captive. I won't give anything away and I would highly recommend this film to all who are interested in both World War II history and seeing a good movie.
I would be remiss if I didn't include this essay published in last Sunday's New York Times, regarding the raft of World War II movies, especially those that have featured aspects of the Holocaust in their theme, that have been released in the past few months. I found this essay interesting, as it takes a different angle on the what these movies may mean when seen through a different set of lenses. Not being Jewish, I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully comprehend the horror of the Holocaust in the manner that it has affected the Jewish people. This essay helped me see a little more deeply into an angle I previously hadn't considered when contemplating perhaps the darkest hour in Western history.

No comments: