LAST FEW THOUGHTS ON ELECTION ISSUES
After a long campaign, we have reached the 2012 election! From the office of the President of the United States to positions at the local city council and school board, there are many different positions up for election. As the election has drawn to a close, the intensity of the races and contests has definitely increased!
Along with the school board positions, the district has a question involving the renewal of an operating referendum. As I have noted the last month, I have highlighted issues related to the ROCORI operating referendum. As a school district, we wanted to be sure voters understood the important election issues facing the ROCORI District. As you read this note, you may be preparing to cast your vote or you may have already been at the polls.
BALLOT QUESTION BACKGROUND
The ballot question involves the operating levy within the district which was approved in 2007. The referendum was originally approved for a six year period. This means the tax levy is in place through 2013 and provides revenue for the district into the 2013-14 school year.
The current value of the referendum is $375.56 per pupil unit. The referendum provides the district with a little more than $800,000 in operating funds. The district is asking to renew the referendum for a period of 6 years.
Last week, I focused on some specific questions that have been raised about the referendum. I will continue with those questions in this week’s column.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KEEP ROCKVILLE AND RICHMOND SCHOOLS OPEN?
In addition to maintaining smaller class sizes district wide (if all schools were combined to one site), neighborhood schools keep children closer to their homes and provide families with a networking community where they live.
In a social and public sense neighborhood schools have an immeasurable value. The school provides a resource and sense of community for the neighborhood, offering vitality, energy, and value to the greater community.
MY FAMILY DOES NOT ATTEND EITHER ROCKVILLE OR RICHMOND ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS. IF THE REFERENDUM DOES NOT PASS, HOW WILL MY FAMILY BE AFFECTED?
Overall, failure of the referendum would affect the quality of education across the ROCORI School District. Regardless of the age of your children, there will have to be decisions made that could affect changes in transportation, reductions in class options, and the elimination programs and student opportunities.
If you have elementary-aged children and a decision needs to be made to consolidate sites, class sizes at Cold Spring Elementary School will naturally increase if students from Rockville and Richmond are added to the classes at CSE.
WE DON’T UNDERSTAND THE MEA BREAK AND HOW IT AFFECTS DISTRICT RESOURCES—HOW CAN THIS BREAK BE JUSTIFIED?
There are quite a few elements of misunderstanding or misinterpretation that I often hear about the MEA break. Because we just experienced the break, I am sure I heard about it again!
I am going to begin with a “broad picture” of Education Minnesota as part of the answer to the question. The Education Minnesota organization states that it represents more than 70,000 educators across the state of Minnesota. I know that figure includes teachers, paraprofessionals and other support staff, but it is important to note that the union membership is more than 70,000 as a context to consider other information.
In any given year, it is my understanding that the actual Education Minnesota conference draws between 8,000 and 11,000 in attendance. The number that I heard reported for this year’s conference was about 8,000 in attendance.
I share the background information because the background question to the use of resources is the issue of engagement at the Education Minnesota conference. That question, however, is not just a ROCORI issue—it has become a statewide issue. The idea of using the time away from school to engage in the statewide educators’ conference does not draw all of Minnesota’s educators to the conference.
One of the key assumptions, however, is that the break in October is paid time for ROCORI (or any Minnesota school district) staff. That actually is not accurate. The ROCORI teacher contract is based on 182 duty or employment days. If you follow it carefully, the school calendar adopted by the school board actually demonstrates the contracted days pretty clearly. The days taken off for Education Minnesota break are not, and have not been, “paid days” in the teacher contract or the school calendar. Because it is not paid time, we have never really asked (at least during my time in the district) the question about how many staff members from ROCORI attend the state conference.
Tradition has permitted the days to be scheduled as non-duty days in order to allow as many teachers as possible “the opportunity” to attend the Education Minnesota conference. Historically, many teachers would attend the conference and schools simply could not find enough substitutes (nor would they want to find enough substitutes) to operate with large numbers of teachers gone for the conference. It was simply better to have schools closed to allow staff members the opportunity to attend the professional conference—and students had vacation time at the same time!
Schools across the state have continued to honor the “opportunity” to attend the conference by keeping the date open in the school calendar. It is not, in any school that I am aware, paid time for staff but the days are non-duty days allowing staff members the opportunity to attend the statewide conference.
The bottom line is this: MEA break is scheduled as a courtesy to the state teacher organization to allow it to conduct a statewide educators’ conference. The days are not calculated as paid days in our teacher contract—they are non-duty days. We have not tracked how many attend because it is not paid time, but we do know the number has been declining over the years. As we develop future calendars, we will continue to have discussion about the value of the time—do we want to schedule school on those days or not? It will become an increasingly difficult question to answer!
SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS
Although I haven’t spent as much time on the School Board positions, my series on the election did start by highlighting the fact that we also had four of six board positions up for election this year. Three seats on the board were scheduled to be open due to terms expiring at the end of the year. One seat became vacant with a resignation during the summer.
Mike Austreng, Cliff Johnson, Nadine Schnettler and Lynn Schurman had all filed for the four-year terms. Three of those individuals will be elected to fill the seats.
Kara Habben and Bob Lessinger filed for the two-year term on the school board. One of these candidates will be elected to fill a term beginning at the end of November.
As I noted at the start of this series, the election is in the midst of all the other election issues. Election day is general election day—Tuesday, November 6, 2012. All of the polling places and times are set by the general election conditions.
Our desire has been for voters in the ROCORI District to understand the operating referendum question, the rationale and the issues. I trust the information over the last few weeks has been helpful in allowing residents and voters to understand!