Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Into the Oven. The recipe for the E-12 conference committee report has been written, the conference committee has mixed the ingredients, and after about 12 hours in the Staff 5000 oven, we are going to have a freshly baked conference committee report. Mmmmmm-mmmmmm good.

Not much in terms of calories and not much in terms of spice, as the overall budget situation makes this a pretty lean cake. It certainly isn't light and fluffy. And my guess is the Governor is going to spit it out once he takes a bite in a few days.

The big news here is that the agreement holds funding flat for the next two years. That's not good, but it certainly isn't as bad as the Senate's consecutive 3.5% cuts over the same period of time. Not much else in terms of spending, at least in a statewide sense.

Here are some other provisions that leap out:
  • Modification of the maintenance of effort provisions in the safe schools levy to reflect FTEs and not revenue spent on counselors, nurses, and social workers.
  • Provides for ongoing levy authority on a year-to-year basis for OPEB and provides for bonding for OPEB. In regard to bonding, bonds issued after October 1, 2009, will have to be approved by the voters in the district seeking the bonding authority.
  • Removes the voters' ability to file a petition to force a revocation vote on a referendum levy.
  • Establishes Office of Educational Accountability.
  • Establishes growth model to measure student progress.
  • Suspends 2% staff development reserve for the next two school years.
  • Creates opportunity for district-created site-governed schools (the Education Evolving proposal that was presented at SEE's February meeting).
  • A number of special education rules and statute revisions that bring Minnesota closer to federal statutes and rules.
  • Changes in training and procedures in regard to the Behavior Intervention Rule and seclusion and locked time-out.
  • New regulations pertaining to charter schools that arose from the Legislative Auditor's report.
  • Raises the project threshold cost for requiring revenue and comment from $500,000 to $1,000,000.
There is more, but these are the highlights. There are a lot of items missing. Nothing--let me repeat that NOTHING--on shared services. Zero. Zip. Nada. Stop. Check please. After all of the oxygen sucked out of hearing rooms during the session (some of it by me), it somehow seems fitting that this, at least at this juncture, did not find its way into the legislation. The reason for its not being included boils down to a simple fact: the Senate bill mandated participation by school districts and the House bill did not. The Senate bill also required that a consultant be hired to find savings through cooperative purchasing and other shared services who would be paid based on how much in savings were generated by the work of the consultant.

The shared services initiative kind of took on elements of George Romero's series of zombie movies that began with "Night of the Living Dead," continued with "Dawn of the Dead," went further with "Day of the Dead," took it another step in "Land of the Dead," and then found a way to top that with "Diary of the Dead." This bill had more lives than your average zombie as it marched and marched and marched overcoming complaints at every juncture. For now, the zombie is dead. . .maybe. I'll get to that tomorrow.

A lot of folks wondered why the education community got so riled up over the shared services effort. I think the explanation is quite simple. When people talk about test scores and report cards and other assessment tools, educators often get uncomfortable but as long as the requirements are set fairly and implemented judiciously, schools accept the fact that there needs to be measures of accountability. The shared services initiative, on the other hand, seems to insinuate that school districts don't have the sense to come in out of the rain. Schools have been cooperating for years (over 40 years in terms of formal arrangements), but somehow unless Deloitte/Touche or some other nationally-recognized consultant doesn't recognize that cooperation, it obviously doesn't exist.

The consolidated levy is also missing, as is the New Minnesota Miracle. I wrote a bit about that in my first entry today. A number of items, including these two, were reportedly in the agreement reached by the conferees last evening, but were all discarded--and this is a rumour here--when the Senate insisted that their version of the shared services language be included. It was no dice.

It is highly possible that this bill will be vetoed. There is very little of the Governor's program in the bill, so he is likely to unsheath his veto pen and write a little missive to the Legislature as to why the bill comes up short.

Speaking of veto pens, where do you buy those. I was out at Office Depot (product placement) the other day and looked high and low and couldn't find any veto pens. Then it dawned on me. They aren't available in retail stores and I bet Governors throughout the country band together, call Deloitte/Touche, and buy veto pens by the truckload in a shared services agreement.

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