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Paynesville Press - March 2, 2005

Legislators discuss pending issues with school board, city council

By Bonnie Jo Hanson and Michael Jacobson

Local legislators - Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) and Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) - met with the Paynesville Area School Board last week to discuss educational issues. The two legislators talked about education for an hour with the school board on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Hosch also attended the Paynes-ville City Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 23, to discuss municipal issues before the legislature with the city council members.

With the school board, during an hour-long discussion Fischbach and Hosch talked about a range of topics: school funding; additional levy authority for school districts; Gov. Pawlenty's plan to pay teachers for performance; state funding for all-day, everyday kindergarten; how federal cuts to special education might affect Minnesota and schools like Paynesville; etc.

Gov. Pawlenty has proposed an increase in the basic education formula aid: two percent per year for 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Fischbach said that Pawlenty's proposal was a starting point, still be reviewed in the Senate. She and Hosch primarily wanted to hear feedback from the board. Hosch said legislators always hear from lobbyists, so they really value hearing from their constituents. The worst thing, he said, was learning after making a vote about a negative affect of some legislation.

Board member Bonnie Strobbe told the two legislators that adding to the basic formula was good, but the current proposal was not enough, and urged lawmakers to "keep thinking higher."

Board members expressed concern over any "new" monies that were really redirected existing aid and urged the lawmakers to be aware about proposals that sounded too good.

Board members also expressed concern about additional levy authority for school boards (giving school boards more power to raise their tax levy for designated expenses, say, capital purchases). Board member Tami Stanger said the governor was keeping his "no new taxes" pledge by forcing school districts to raise taxes instead.

Hosch agreed that property taxes are the wrong direction for the state to go in funding education, since districts have such uneven tax bases.

Board members and the legislators discussed the disparity in school funding from district to district across the state. Board member Deb Glenz wondered why the governor's task force on school finance seemed to have quit without issuing a report and speculated that the more they investigated, the worse it looked.

Board member Lowell Haagenson agreed, saying the task force was a good idea but had failed to yield substantial results.

On other school issues, Stanger wondered how school districts (who all have master contracts with their teacher's union) were going to take part in the governor's plan for teacher performance pay. She asked if only the school districts that could get their teacher's union to agree would get to see this new funding.

Upon questioning by the board, Fischbach and Hosch said that bills for all-day, everyday kindergarten, statewide insurance, levy authority, pupil weighting, and various funding proposals were all expected at the legislature, but it was too early to tell what would pass or not. They said the bipartisan spirit at the capital was much better this year.

With the city council, Hosch - who serves on the House Local Govern-ment Committee - discussed Local Government Aid and efforts to reinstate funding cuts; the state budget deficit; transportation funding; and the bonding bills in the House and Senate, both of which include funding for the Lake Koronis Recreation-al Trail. While both the House and Senate bonding bills are larger than the governor has proposed, Hosch predicted that a compromise bill would be signed by Pawlenty.

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