Thursday, February 10, 2011

Meeting with Legislators in St. Michael. The reason I was unable to blog about the Governor's State of the State Address until today is because I was at an event organized by the Wright and Sherburne County superintendents and school boards which featured four area legislators. Thirteen school districts (12 of them SEE members) gathered at the St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West to discuss pertinent issues facing Minnesota school districts during these tight budget times.

The four legislative priorities presented to the legislators were:

(1) Approval of the mandate relief--including the salary freeze--in SF 56.

(2) Repeal of state-imposed special education laws and rules that exceed federal laws and rules.

(3) Re-examination of state testing policy to reduce tests which are not helpful in terms of instruction to students, teachers, and other school personnel.

(4) Increased equalization of the referendum, debt service, and other levies.

The administrators and school board members from the districts did an excellent job presenting each of these points clearly, concisely, and passionately. These districts are up against the wall and all of the presenters made it clear how valuable support of these measures would be in helping make scarce dollars go further or, in the case of equalization policy, make the property tax system as it relates to school districts more fair. I want to single out St. Michael-Albertville Board Member Doug Birk for his excellent presentation on equalization policy.

The districts present last evening are all low-revenue, low-property value districts. In other words, they are behind the proverbial eight-ball when it comes to the distribution of revenue under the various state formulas and it takes more tax effort to raise locally-generated funds. Events like the one held last evening go a long way toward building a stronger link between school districts and legislators and I would encourage all SEE members to consider putting together a similar event.

I want to commend the legislators for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend the event. Those in attendance included Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R-Buffalo), Senator Dave Brown (R-Becker), Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and Representative Joe McDonald (R-Delano).

Speaking of SF 56. SF 56 is Senator Dave Thompson's (R-Lakeville) bill thats: (1) repeals the staff-development set-aside; (2) repeals the maintenance-of-effort language as it pertains to school counselors, school social workers, and other support personnel; (3) repeals the January 15th negotiating deadline and associated penalty for not reaching agreement by that date; and, (4) implements a two-year salary freeze for all school personnel.

Five amendments were offered to the bill, but none were successful. Among the amendments were a re-establishment of the salary limit for superintendents at 110% of the governor's salary, exemption from the salary freeze for special education paraprofessionals making less than $19,800 per year or food service employees who earn either less than $11,000 per year or $12 per hour, and a direction that any revenue saved through the salary freeze be directed to lowering class-sizes. The amendment calling for the re-establishment of the superintendent salary limit was ruled to be not germane to the bill, but all other amendments failed on pretty much party-line votes.

The bill passed on a vote of 36-29.

I Forgot to Link This. My cost estimate for all-day kindergarten came from this report from the Minneapolis Foundation describing the benefits of all-day kindergarten programs. Good report, but it does overlook a number of impediments to districts implementing an all-day kindergarten program. The report is about five years old.

I Also Stumbled Across This Article and Report. There is certainly a lot of concern about the academic performance of students throughout the United States and standardized tests, but this article points out that our standing isn't slipping as much as its holding steady. Perhaps lower than we would like, but not falling off the cliff as some would contend. The obvious response is that even though we aren't number one in the world, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve our scores, but it does point out that a lot of the hand-wringing creates an inaccurate impression.

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