Candidates participate in education forum (with video)WORTHINGTON — Candidates vying for Minnesota House 22A and 22B and Senate District 22 seats faced more than a dozen school administrators Wednesday afternoon in Worthington to respond to issues surrounding public education.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Candidates vying for Minnesota House 22A and 22B and Senate District 22 seats faced more than a dozen school administrators Wednesday afternoon in Worthington to respond to issues surrounding public education.
Hosted by Southwest/West Central Services Cooperative, the forum offered not just a chance for administrators to learn how candidates stand on issues, but for the candidates to hear from school representatives on issues ranging from local control over school start dates to unfunded mandates.
The forum began with all six candidates sharing the same belief that school start dates should be left up to local control, but the finger-pointing began when a question was raised regarding increasing state revenue sources to pay back the monies owed to schools.
Senate candidate Alan Oberloh, D-Worthington, pointed out Gov. Mark Dayton’s blocked plan to return some of that money and said it is “high time” for the state of Minnesota to get back to a solid budget.
“I think we’re going to have to find ways to increase revenue to get it done,” Oberloh said, then offered up a long-talked-about solution in closing the corporate loophole.
“I don’t know why it’s so difficult to get that done,” he said.
Oberloh’s counterpart, Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said he is willing to grow revenue, but “before we go to the people and the businesses of this state, I think we need to figure out how to run a budget.
“We keep doing the same thing and yet expect different results,” Weber said. “There’s no reason the people of this state should see a tax increase before the state figures out how to write a budget and get its fiscal house in order.”
The four House candidates at Wednesday’s forum offered a bit of a twist on the discussion, with two incumbents facing two legislative hopefuls.
Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, is finishing up his fourth term as Representative of District 22B, and said he and District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, voted “multiple times” to pay back the monies to education, and each time it was vetoed.
“Education is a priority in the state of Minnesota — over 40 percent of the budget is spent on education,” he said.
Cheryl Avenel-Navara, D-Worthington, who is seeking Hamilton’s 22B seat, said if education is a priority, the legislature needs to figure out how to better fund it.
“You only got 60 percent of your funding,” she said as she pointed to the school administrators in the audience, adding that the cut was unconscionable.
“The Minnesota constitution states that the only thing the state is required to do is fund education,” Avenel-Navara said. “We’ve got to figure out how to do it. I think we have to look at everything we call a tax, a fee a license … there are some fees, some licenses that people find acceptable.”
She also offered increasing the income tax on the wealthiest 7,700 Minnesotans.
Considerable time was spent discussing a recently added unfunded mandate regarding the principal and teacher evaluation process in schools.
John Landgaard, superintendent of District 518, said the added evaluations approved by the legislature at the request of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce amounts to an $82 million unfunded mandate for the state.
“This is an example of the constant interference in the school process,” Landgaard said.
Schomacker, who said the legislature dealt with a few mandates this last session and successfully eliminated one regarding school staff development days, said he’d be in favor of leaving evaluation issues up to the schools.
“I’m definitely for fewer mandates for schools,” he said.
Schomacker is seeking his second term in District 22A, but faces challenger Gene Short, D-Currie. Short, who served 16 years as a Redwood County Commissioner, said he is familiar with unfunded mandates.
“If the chamber wants to have a report card on the job performance of school administration — if we’re going to have a bill that measures performance — then we should measure our own performance. I’m really not in favor (of the mandate),” Short said.
Defending the action taken by the legislature, Hamilton said House and Senate members are often asked about accountability.
“I understand what some of the hardships are, but we have individuals from all sides of this wondering what we have in place to gauge the quality of education for our students,” he said. “We’re getting hit as legislators on all sides of this — we all have the best interests in mind. There are many people who thought this was a great way to offer feedback — for the public as well. What are we afraid of? We are producing some of the best students in the world.”
Landgaard said the new legislation requires probationary teachers to be evaluated three times per year and a tenured teacher every year.
“We’re more than doubling the number of evaluations,” he said, adding that he’d need to hire another administrator and possibly more teachers to conduct peer evaluations.
“I think evaluations are great, personally, but now these evaluations are taking up time from someone who needs your help,” said District 518 board member Stephen Schnieder. “Are we fixing a real problem or a perceived problem? We’re putting money toward something that perhaps we don’t need to do. Sometimes one size doesn’t fit all.”
From teacher evaluations, discussion moved into testing results and the unacceptable lag time between Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment testing and actually getting the results.
Todd Meyer, Jackson County Central superintendent, said the state could save $25 million a year by getting rid of the MCAs. Schools in this area rely heavily and put more trust in NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) testing, which provides quick results and gives teachers an opportunity to make immediate, effective changes to reach struggling students.
Roger Graff, superintendent of Adrian and Edgerton schools, said MCA tests are “setting us up to make us look like we’re failing.”
Landgaard said that regardless of who gets elected in November, the legislators of southwest Minnesota need to remain in contact with the schools they serve.