LETTER: Standing strong for public schools

Published 5:18 pm Saturday, February 20, 2016

By Don Leathers, Austin 

Public schools are an important part of a democratic society and the American way of life. In fact, America introduced free, public education for all its children in the 19th century. Today, public schools provide for the basic needs of every child and for the quality education each young person deserves to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Public schools across the state of Minnesota are among the best in the nation. Consistently, they perform well on overall student achievement, reform initiatives, teacher training and educational efficiency. But, our schools aren’t perfect. Minnesota has one of the largest minority population achievement gaps in the U.S., its graduation rates need improvement and, increasingly, schools are finding it difficult to recruit and retain new teachers. We need to address these deficiencies.

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The challenges of the job of educating our youth are immense. Let’s all of us stand up for public schools in 2016, especially Austin Public Schools. Let’s recognize and thank our teachers, para-professionals, principals, cooks, admin assistants, office staff, bus drivers, and all those who work to help our youth succeed in a quickly-changing world.

Please, visit a school, come and read to a third-grader, walk into a first-year teacher’s classroom, look at the amazing things she/he has done, say, “Great job.” Go to a high school jazz concert at the Historic Paramount Theatre and be stunned by the musicianship on display, attend a sporting event, and all the while, witness first-hand the amazing things that are being done for, and with, our students, pre-K through adult education.

Believe me, walking into a school, a classroom or an athletic/arts venue in Austin is an amazing experience. You won’t soon forget what you have witnessed.

But let’s be honest, another important aspect of education is funding. We, the taxpayers of Austin, have been unbelievably generous and supportive of our schools over the years. We can be proud of the progress the district has made recently because of the dollars we have been able to utilize on behalf of our students. The list is long: the construction of I.J. Holton Intermediate School, HVAC at the high school, renovation of Knowlton Auditorium, computers district-wide, the PI Academy at Southgate, the Dome at Westcott Field, the current Albert Lea/Austin Special Education Co-op, just to name a few successful projects.

However, the costs of educating our youth, providing quality programs, fixing roofs, plowing snow, purchasing computers and maintaining efficient bus service continue to rise. Schools have been underfunded by the Minnesota Legislature for over a decade. If you’d like to stand up for public schools, contact your legislator either by phone, letter, email, text or a face-to-face conversation and tell him or her, please add dollars to the funding formula so Minnesota public schools can continue to strive to serve the needs of all our children. I’ve provided contact information below. It’s the best investment any of us can make for the future.