DISTRICT LEGISLATIVE GOALS
During the legislative sessions, we often send information to the legislators who represent the communities comprising our district. It is important to the school board and for district purposes for us to share information. We try to provide information about bills or pending legislation as well as explain the impact on the ROCORI Schools.
Recently, a letter was sent to our legislators to describe some of the issues that are important. I will share the topics we emphasized with legislators. Last week, I shared some information about district efforts to connect with legislators. As I told Representative Howe and Senator Fischbach, they are not necessarily in “priority” order, but they are important to our district!
In last week’s article, we covered three issues in discussion at the Capitol. Improvements in the school foundation aid formula, efforts to ensure effective teachers, and funding to support teacher improvement and evaluation were the main focus.
We know that there are a lot of options being presented at the capitol for school funding, but the one that provides the most flexibility for all school districts and best allows school districts to meet individual needs is an increase in the foundation aid formula. As a district, we asked our legislators to support the legislative efforts which would increase the basic general education formula by $300 per pupil unit, per year, to address the current rate of inflation and persistent underfunding of the basic formula.
We encouraged legislators to support laws that would allow school districts to retain the most effective teachers, regardless of seniority, to assure the highest quality learning experiences for all students.
We also shared information about the issue of addressing the gap between schools that have been funded with Q Comp revenue and those that do not have access to the funds. The teacher and principal evaluation processes are required, through legislative action, of all districts. The funding to complete the tasks required in those actions needs to follow. The best way to address this is to extend the Q Comp funding to all Minnesota schools.
Another issue we have discussed at the board level is to support legislation amending the calendar for the start of the school year. School districts across the state face a significant issue this fall with Labor Day falling as late as possible—on September 7. Under current law, school cannot start for students until September 8—unless special permission is granted by the Commissioner.
The ROCORI School Board adopted a resolution encouraging a change in the start of the school year to allow local decision-making and local authority. We are not seeking the ability to move the start of school into mid-August, but we should have the ability to start school (annually) by September 1. Even legislation that provided this flexibility would address the concerns we have for the 2015-16 school year—and allow school districts to evaluate the calendar every year.
EQUITY IN MAINTENANCE ISSUES
At a recent SEE (Schools for Equity in Education) meeting, those in attendance heard from Senator Kevin Dahle of Northfield. Senator Dahle has been moving forward the recommendation from the School Facilities Working Group by authoring legislation related to maintenance issues.
The Facilities Working Group was commissioned by the legislature to examine how schools address long-term facility maintenance. The group is encouraging greater equity for schools by extending the authority of local school boards to be able to address facility needs through the Alternate Facilities options currently available to 25 metro area schools.
This funding authority, which has been available to within the metro area, would greatly enhance the ability of schools across the state to address long-term facility and maintenance needs. The schools with the authority must demonstrate needs through facility plans, but then are permitted to impose a levy to meet those needs.
In the ROCORI District, we believe that we have made significant efforts to upgrade our facilities and to take action to preserve our sites—but we must also be able to maintain them appropriately in the long-term. This authority would allow us, through the development of long-term plans, to better meet facility needs.
COLLABORATIVE LEVY AUTHORITY
This request was somewhat unique to ROCORI and a few area schools. As a school that is a partner with five other Central Minnesota districts and St. Cloud State University, we are looking to have a legislator introduce a levy authority specifically designed to support and sustain collaborative efforts to improve teaching and learning.
The Teacher Preparation Initiative (TPI) Schools wrote a letter in a previous legislative session. The TPI Partnership schools are working toward an update to the letter—but essentially seeking the same authority as outlined. The concept is to allow the partner districts the ability, up to $50 per pupil unit, to levy in order to carry out the activities and expectations of the partnership.
The letter to legislators explained, “The Teacher Preparation Initiative and partnership has taken seriously the challenge of strengthening teacher quality and is working hard to build new foundations for education in Minnesota. Teacher preparation, support of new teachers through a formal induction process, quality and sustainable professional development, and establishment of an educational partnership and resource center have been at the core of the work to date.
“Because the educational institutions involved in the partnership believe seriously in the work that has been undertaken, each system is also seeking ways to sustain the initiatives. The many different efforts at the state level (student academic standards, teacher and principal evaluation processes, accountability measures, and other steps) indicate a desire of the state and legislature to support improvements in education as well. Both the state and the partnership desire demonstrable, sustainable efforts to promote student achievement and enhance teacher quality.”
The targeted activities of the levy authority would be extended based on specific proposals to support three-year teacher induction processes and defined efforts to support teacher training, teacher quality assessment. A local levy authority, as proposed, would provide positive support and sustainability to efforts to enhance teacher preparation, strengthen induction efforts during the first three (critical) years of a teacher career, and improve the performance of continuing contract educators. The levy authority would allow school districts who choose to engage with post-secondary institutions to have resources to implement serious and fundamental reform in the teacher development process.
As a district, we believe it is important to maintain good, open communication with area legislators. There are important issues, and important opportunities, at the legislature this spring. We want to be sure out legislators understand the ideas, proposals and concepts that are important to our school district. We also want to help our legislators to understand the effects of proposals that impact us.
As such, we exchange information and are active in communicating with our legislators. We also take time to visit the legislators during the session at the Capitol. We encourage parents, community residents, and others who want to maintain strong community schools to engage on issues of education. Collectively and collaboratively, we can help legislators know and understand what is needed for the ROCORI Schools!