You spoke, they listened.
The House K-12 Education Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, met in Brainerd Monday night to find out what area residents think about the proposed "new Minnesota miracle."
House File 4178, hailed as the miracle, would create a new education funding framework in the state. The meeting was one of three such hearings planned around the state.
Educational funding strikes a chord with many Brainerd and Crosby-Ironton school supporters, two neighboring communities that have endured budget cuts after failed levy referendums last November.
More than 100 people packed the board room at Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd Monday for the meeting, including many from Brainerd and C-I. In addition, a few other area superintendents, as well as parents and community members, also attended the meeting to provide input. Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, co-chaired the committee for this hearing in Brainerd.
HF 4178, if adopted, would increase basic school funding; provide aid for districts, like Crosby-Ironton, suffering from declining enrollment; provide more special education funding; more funding for schools that serve students from low socioeconomic backgrounds; and streamline general educational revenue, among other features. The bill also has a provision that would reduce each school district's operating levy referendum by $500 per pupil and add that amount to each district's general education revenue, providing tax relief by taking it off the local levy.
In general, all of those who spoke to the committee supported the proposal, except David Allan Pundt, a Republicancandidate who is seeking the House District 12A seat currently held by Ward.
Many people shared their personal stories about how inequitable educational funding has affected their lives.
Steve Razidlo, who will become Brainerd's superintendent July 1, told lawmakers that Brainerd needs a new Minnesota miracle because it has lost 20 percent of its staff, including 95 teaching positions, in the last six years because of budget cuts.
"Strong schools support strong communities and (that) promotes a greater Minnesota for all of Minnesota," said Razidlo.
Anne Pritschet, a Brainerd parent, said she and her husband, Dave, a Brainerd teacher, moved here 15 years ago so he could teach German. All but Spanish will have been cut because of budget cuts, she said. Second-year German/French students will be allowed to take a second year of the world languages next year after the board recently rehired French teacher Liz Aulie to fill the gap for those students.
"We had such good programs here and it's so sad to see them cut back where there's not much left for our high school students," said Pritschet.
Most people don't understand what our children need today to face the challenges ahead," said Aulie. "Two years (of a foreign language) are not enough. Are our rural students ready to live in a multicultural world? ... We need to have global education equal to what Europe and Asia have and until then, Minnesota schools just won't and can't compete."
Deron Stender, superintendent in the Frazee-Vergas School District, told the committee that his district had gone through nine years of budget cuts in 10 years and four failed referendums before it passed a referendum last fall on its fifth attempt. He said the district is now facing a petition by some residents who are attempting to revoke or reduce the referendum that took six years to pass. He said the petitioners already have about 600 signatures and will likely achieve the 620 signatures needed to force the district to put it on the ballot.
"We're in an awkward situation right now," Stender told lawmakers. "The timing is right for these people, with the economy and frustration with public schools. It's not good for us and not good for our students. We're faced with a situation where we need to go out and defend ourselves."
Stender said the way education is funded needs to change to make it more equitable for districts like his and Brainerd. He said school districts like these need to do a better job of standing together and letting lawmakers know what education needs.
Greg Vandal, superintendent of the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District, said the scope of his district's programs and services can't compete with nearby St. Cloud because his district hasn't passed a referendum.
C-I Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland said his district is facing about a $1 million budget shortfall for the 2009-2010 school year even after years of budget cuts. C-I Schools would need a 15 percent increase on top of the state educational funding formula next year in order to retain the programs it has today, he said.
Jim Christenson, C-I seventh-12th grade principal, said when he started as principal six years ago he had 49.5 classroom teachers in seventh- through 12th-grade and next year that will drop to 29.5 teachers.
"It's getting to be tougher and tougher and if the superintendent comes to me and says I have to cut, I honestly don't know where we would cut," said Christenson.
Mike Schmidt, a Brainerd teacher and father of four, said it's been difficult watching his colleagues lose their jobs and even worse, he's been their replacement because he's a member of the tenured staff.
"I'm tired of that for our community and for our kids, that we have to look at each other and say 'Hello and good luck,'" said Schmidt. "These are people that chose education, they didn't chose to fight for it day in and day out."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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