School officials target legislative concerns

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 26, 2000

The Austin Board of Education is preparing for the 2001 Minnesota Legislature.

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

The Austin Board of Education is preparing for the 2001 Minnesota Legislature.

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On Monday, school board members reviewed legislative issues and other concerns. Along the way, it found an ally in the Austin Education Association.

School board member Kathy Green, the board’s legislative liaison to the Minnesota School Boards Association, won approval of three recommendations.

Schools Superintendent Dr. James A. Hess also won the board’s approval of a laundry list of issues and concerns for the Minnesota legislators to consider.

Green pulled no punches as she outlined her proposed initiatives for the Legislature to consider.

She wants local school boards to be able to opt out of the Profile of Learning portion of the Minnesota Graduation Standards by a majority vote and to be able to do so with no financial penalty.

According to Green, school districts can better meet the educational needs of their districts’ students by "tailoring" their own curriculum and to allow "parents and students to determine their course of study."

Also, Green wants the Department of Children, Families and Learning to develop and provide a uniform software statewide to record students’ progress with the Profile of Learning.

Lastly, Green wants to reduce the number of content standards associated with the Profile of Learning from the current 24 to as low as 10 or possibly five.

The rationale for the last recommendation is that classroom time is being "eroded away by the activities of the Profiles."

"More time should be dedicated to the learning of core knowledge," Green said.

Hess reviewed the recommendations of the district’s legislative committee.

They include providing additional funding for school districts by increasing the English-as-a-second-language per-pupil allocation from $500 to $750.

If that doesn’t happen, Hess warned, "school districts will be forced to fund ESL costs with general education resources and dollars."

Also, Hess recommended additional funding for school districts by increasing the state and federal participation in special education costs and reducing the district cross-subsidy amount.

He also suggested funding for special education should be on a current-year basis and not delayed by two years.

Hess also proposed providing funding for school districts experiencing a decline in enrollment by using either the current enrollment or a three-year average of public units to determine general education revenue.

Among the committee’s concerns articulated at Monday’s special meeting by the superintendent was an issue currently on the minds of school officials, students and parents: class sizes and staffing levels.

The proposal calls for the state to consider additional funds to support lowering class sizes across all grade levels and allow school districts flexibility in how allocated class size reduction funds be spent.

Bob Riege, representing the Austin Education Association at Monday’s meeting, said, "The AEA will support the proposal before the school board."

Riege also suggested the school board, through its state association, seek to have a portion of any future state sales tax rebates funneled back into education.

Also Riege, a well-known sportsman in his personal life, suggested a portion of the Minnesota State Lottery proceeds, now going to the environmental trust fund, be designated to education in Minnesota.