Thursday, February 12, 2009

It Must be SEE Week. Wednesday's Senate E-12 Finance Committee featured two bills that were generated by SEE member districts and introduced by Senator Mike Jungbauer (R-East Bethel). Both of these bills, will envisioned and supported by these SEE members, have statewide implications and could prove of value to school districts throughout the state.

The first bill discussed by the committee was SF 344, a bill that would extend the compensatory revenue pilot projects enacted in 2005. This program is contained in the Governor's budget, but having it introduced as an individual bill provided the committee an opportunity to more fully study and disucss this successful program.

This program emanated from frustrations with the revenue distribution under the state's compensatory education formula, principally the building concentration aspect of the compensatory formula. In the Anoka-Hennepin district--as well as a number of other school districts--the enrollment of free-and-reduced price lunch students (the proxy by which the level of compensatory revenue is calculated) is spread relatively evenly throughout the district. Because of this, no individual school building generates compensatory revenue in the amount that is truly needed to meet the needs of those students for whom compensatory revenue is intended. Further, compensatory revenue must be spent in the building in which it is generated. In other words, the district cannot move--by law--compensatory revenue between buildings even if they recognized greater needs in one building over another.

In order to remedy this problem, the Legislature enacted the pilot project program with the intent of giving districts with similar enrollment patterns to Anoka-Hennepin's additional compensatory revenue and measure the results of the injection of the revenue and an ability for the district to spread the revenue to the buildings where the district saw the greatest need for intervention. The results of this program in Anoka-Hennepin have been extremely impressive.

The panel pictured at the right (Anoka-Hennepin acting Superintendent Dennis Carlson, Senator Mike Jungbauer, Anoka-Hennepin Associate Superintendent for Elementary Education Mary Wolverton, and Anoka-Hennepin Director of Elementary Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment) did a marvelous job of showing how the additional revenue made available to the district has helped significantly raise test scores through the implementation of instructional and staff development programs that truly make a difference in the classroom. Dr. Wolverton pointed out that the re-structuing of instructional patterns, the increase in relevant staff development, fidelity to best practices, and the flexible use of small groups. What the district has done, under a different label, is institute a very comprehensive and effective Response-to-Intervention (RtI) model that sets out cogent standards and expectations and assesses students in a consistent manner where results can be folded back into the instruction process seamlessly (Whew! William Faulkner has nothing on me when it comes to the run-on sentence).

Where this research can be exported statewide comes not only in the discussion of the flaws of the current compensatory revenue formula in terms of generation and distribution of revenue, but also in the implementation of effective programs to meet the needs of students who are not meeting federal, state, and local standards. Much of this though is pursued in the PS Minnesota bill, which raises the amount of revenue attributable to an individual student on free-or-reduced price lunch, eliminates the building concentration factor, and allows districts to use the money more flexibly between buildings.

So thank you, Anoka-Hennepin, for your hard work on this matter. It should provide a path for a more fair and equitable compensatory revenue formula.

Senator Jungbauer is also the author of SF 343, which would make any district that has been in the QComp program for five years eligible for a levy of $65 per pupil to be used to help extend the program and enable districts that have participated that long to ensure the long-term health of the program. One of the misconceptions about QComp is that it will cost districts less. The primary reason for the $265 per pupil unit in aid and levy that is part of the QComp program is to help districts transform their teaching staff reimbursement system from a steps-and-lanes framework to one based more on professional development and improved student outcomes. The current system believes, however, that once this conversion is made that districts will begin saving money. That is not necessarily the case nor should it be. New frameworks, while trying to avoid the "automatic" increases inherent in a steps-and-lanes system will have costs that are not part of the current system, particularly in the area of staff development.

The primary support for Senator Jungbauer's bill comes from the St. Francis school district, one of the early pioneers in the state's alternative compensation efforts. Pictured at the left are several St. Francis staff members who have been instrumental in the district's alternative compensation program. Shown at the left (from left to right) are St. Francis superintendent Ed Saxton, St. Francis QComp program coordinator Randy Keillor, and St. Francis Teacher Academy Coordinator Amy Warden. The St. Francis testimony was straight to the point and extremely impressive. The goal of alternative compensation should not necessarily be to save money, but to improve classroom teaching and reward and retain teachers who work to improve their teaching methods through intensive and applicable staff development efforts. Those points came through loud and clear in the testimony and were greatly appreciated by the members of the Senate E-12 Funding Divsion.
So all in all, it was an impressive day for SEE school districts who used this forum to explain programs for which they have played a leading role; programs that have improved student learning in each of these districts.

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