Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SEE Well Represented At This Morning's Senate Hearing. Three bills, two SEE districts. Not a bad ratio for the Senate E-12 Funding Division.

The first bill of the day was SF 142, Senator Katie Sieben's (D-Newport) bill that would make Hastings ISD #200 eligible for the alternative bond and levy program to fund deferred maintenance projects in the district. Senator Sieben is shown at right with Hastings Board Member Dan Cater and Hastings Superintendent Tim Collins.

The reason for the bill is straightforward. Hastings has run debt service elections several times over the past decade to fund needed repairs, but have yet to meet with success in these efforts. At the same time, deferred maintenance needs continue to increase while capital expenditure revenue for buildings has also remained static. The deferred maintenance program was passed in 2005 and while that program has been helpful, it certainly is not sufficient to meet the needs of a district the size of Hastings.

Superintendent Collins and Board Member Cater did a thorough and effective job of pointing out the challenges facing the Hastings district and how the alternative bond and levy program would give the district needed flexibility in meeting those needs, especially in view of the fact that Hastings has two operating levies to be renewed in within the next five years. Continuing to go before the voters could cause not only confusion, but also contribute to voter fatigue.

The bill elicited a considerable amount of discussion on the part of the committee. There are undoubtedly increasing deferred maintenance needs being faced by school districts. The creation of the deferred maintenance program is testament to that. But that program is not, as stated above, sufficient to meet the needs of most school districts. Add to that the dicey nature of debt service elections in the wake of the dwindling value of equalizing factors and the economic downturn and a case can be made for increased eligibility for a board-directed mechanism to help school districts plan and execute programs to meet their building needs on a planned basis.
In a year when it is going to be difficult for the Legislature to provide significant amounts of state aid to ailing school budgets, bills like SF 142 are likely to earn greater consideration and that consideration is deserved. School districts are faced with a myriad of issues in terms of both operating and capital revenue needs. The introduction and subsequent discussion of SF 142 provides a great opportunity to look at the capital end of that challenge and how it could be solved.

The second bill emanating from an event in a SEE member district was brought forward by Senator Amy Koch (R-Buffalo). SF 327 springs from an accident experienced by Brady Capouch, who was a third-grader in the St. Michael-Albertville School District when he was hurt on a playground. His injuries were such that he should not have been moved after the accident, but due to the fact that no teacher had witnessed the fall and none had either CPR or first-aid certification, the decision was made that he should be taken to the hospital.

Brady's mom, Kelly Capouch (pictured at left with Senator Koch) asked Senator Koch if she would look into the possibility of authorizing school districts to spend staff development revenue on CPR and first aid certification. The result of Senator Koch's investigation is SF 327, a bill that would provide school districts with a revenue stream to provide the type of first aid training that could prove crucial in the event that accidents like the one suffered by Brady Capouch.

While the committee is rightfully reluctant to institute a mandate, it was supportive of the suggestion that schools should find ways to provide this training, which is what the St. Michael-Albertville district did to a group (but not all) of its teaching, instructional support, and custodial staff to be available during recess periods.
Both bills were laid over for possible inclusion in the Senate omnibus E-12 funding bill.

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