School leaders describe legislative priorities

Joe Nathan
ECM Contributing Writer

Some surprising, as well as continuing themes came through when I asked superintendents around the state for a brief summary of their legislative priorities. The two most common themes were providing designated dollars for technology and equalizing funding.

Gregory Winter, Braham Area Superintendent wrote: “What item I would like to see the legislature address (obviously there are many, but I will stick to education) is the revolution of such that tablets, namely the iPad and it’s tremendous impact on education. If the legislature does not step in, we are going to have an even greater increase between the haves and have not districts on technology. Case in point, New York Mills Public School was able to pass a technology levy and begin a district wide implementation of the use of iPad technology. How are districts that do not have the current funds or the ability to pass technology levels keep up with those schools that can pass the levies or have the money? Not that iPads are the solution but they are a tool, if used properly, they will have a significant impact on education.”

Cambridge-Isanti Superintendent Bruce Novak responded, “For me the top priority is  correcting the shift and getting back to the 90/10. It is very difficult for school districts to operate on 60 percent of the revenues during the current fiscal year without borrowing money to meet the everyday operational expenses. Other issues of consideration would be to continue looking at unfunded mandates and if they do not have a direct impact on student academic achievement they need to be revisited, modified or removed as appropriate. (Progress was made in this area last session, however there are still others that should be looked at more closely).”

Superintendent Novak also believes, “Special Education is growing faster than one can imagine and the formula for funding this educational need has remained much as it was when first implemented. There has to be a recognition by legislators that Special Education Funding has to be sufficient; districts do not have revenues to continue the cross subsidy (using General Education Funds to cover the excess costs of Special Education) to cover the costs outside of the funding revenue for Special Education.”

Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told me something I had not known about the state’s funding formula: His top priority is “Equity revenue for our Hennepin and Anoka County students as seven-county metro students are funded at a higher level. If my office were located in Hennepin or Anoka Counties we would be included. (up to $400K). Bezek pointed out that while the district has students from both counties, because his office was not located in the seven county metro area in 1999, the district receives several hundred thousand dollars less.

I talked with Minnesota Senate Education Committee administrator Gregory Marcus who confirmed this.

Bezek also hopes that the legislature will provide some designated funding for new approaches with technology. He believes that this could end up saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

My deepest hope is that the legislature will reduce dependence on local property taxes. Nations around the world with the highest average achievement don’t make funding dependent on which community a youngster lives in.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, [email protected]