School district outlines policy priorities to area legislators

Published 7:53 am Thursday, January 30, 2020

Everything from the licensure requirements of substitute teachers to legislation on what counts as teacher prep time was discussed at a meeting Wednesday between officials from Austin Public Schools, Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe.

The event is an annual meeting between the district and legislators prior to the start of a new session at the Legislature.

This year’s session will be a shorter one, stretching from Feb. 11 to May 18, at the latest. With the budget passed last session, the biggest issue will be whether or not a bonding bill is approved.

Email newsletter signup

“It should not go into overtime at all because this is a bonding year and we don’t need to have a bonding bill. Of course everybody wants to have a bonding bill,” Poppe said.

Both she and Sparks appreciate hearing from the district on the issues that affect it.

“It’s good to know what’s on your mind,” Poppe said.

Sparks said meetings like these are a better way to discuss issues with the district than speaking with people between meetings at the state Capitol if they visit.

Because of the short session, bills with policy changes will need to begin going through the process almost immediately if they are to be finished by the end of the session, Sparks said.

One issue that was discussed was allowing districts to hire substitute teachers who have not had the full four-year teaching degree.

Director of Human Resources Mark Raymond said there is a shortage across the state of licensed subs due to low unemployment and teachers have been having to fill in for their colleagues in addition to their own classes.

“By the time you get to April and May and they’ve already subbed 20, 30 or 40 times, it’s tough,” Raymond said.

The proposal, endorsed by administrators around the state and the Minnesota School Board Association, would allow districts to create pilot programs that do not require the four year degree.

Raymond said Education Minnesota, the teacher’s union, is opposed to the policy. The reason he has heard is that it is because it would hurt its position on plans to have a tiered licensing policy for full-time teachers.

He said the policy is aimed at getting people to be able to supervise students on a short term basis, not have them fill in for a semester.

The substitutes would be more about providing supervision for students, rather than teaching, Supt. David Krenz said.

Poppe said she cannot promise the policy will get done, but she thinks it is something that needs to get done to fill in gaps.

Another issue that was discussed included transportation, where the district hopes the policies for general education and special education open enrollment students will be made the same.

Krenz pointed out that if a general ed student from Rochester wants to come to Austin, their family has to transport the child, but if the child is a special education student, the district is responsible for transportation, which has become very expensive.

Other proposed changes included changing the Minnesota birth certificates so they are easier for officials to know what is the first, middle and last name of children with multiple names, providing additional funding for mental health services and keeping the potential costs to districts in mind when making policy decisions.