School leaders describe legislative priorities
by Joe Nathan
Thisweek Newspapers and Dakota County Tribune
Some surprising, as well as some continuing themes came through when I asked school leaders around the state for a brief summary of their legislative priorities. Common themes were promoting innovation, respecting local control, and for charter public schools, creating opportunities for low-cost borrowing those districts currently have.
Superintendent of Jay Haugen of Farmington wrote: “My top priority is to have the Legislature provide school districts a pathway to innovation. We need some mechanism that allows and encourages us to fundamentally change the way learning and teaching happens, without spending the majority of our energies figuring out how to unmire ourselves from the present system.”
Brooklyn Center Superintendent Keith Lester has a similar priority: “We have distinguished ourselves in innovative programs and creative ways to provide them. Some flexibility with calendar and the ability to collaborate with other districts more easily would be very helpful. We have begun discussions with area superintendents around the concept of a “regional school district” or Promise Neighborhood without district boundaries – over a year ago.”
Sabrina Williams, director of EXCELL Academy charter in Brooklyn Park, listed two priorities for the 2012 Legislature.
• “State funded full-day kindergarten: Educators working in the field daily, as well as parents all agree that our young children (4- to 5-year-olds) need to be in a full-time structured learning environment daily in order for the achievement gap to be narrowed. Most low income and working families don’t have this luxury/option. The state needs to make it available if we want our students struggle less and achieve more academically.”
• “Decrease the financial holdbacks on schools – Go back to the 10 percent. How are schools to educate effectively when we are spending time and dollars on finding loans, lines of credit, having to cut budgets, lay off staff, implement salary freezes, etc.”
A number of district and charter educators agreed with Williams that reducing the amount of “holdback” funds is a top priority.
Les Fujitake, Bloomington superintendent, told me: “Last year, Minnesota Education Commissioner (Brenda) Cassellius organized an Education Finance Working Group. The work product of this interdisciplinary group of professionals is a report titled Funding Education for the Future. A priority for this Legislature should be to seriously consider this report’s major recommendations.”
Superintendent Ric Dressen of Edina also was a member of this task force. He agreed with Fujitake in urging consideration of this report.
Personally, my strongest 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, a former Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.