Rally supports more funding

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 3/14/01.

Group with Stang Approximately 1,500 people rallied in the capitol rotunda to show their support for additional funding for education in Minnesota.

Forty-five people from Paynesville took part in the "Keep Minnesota Smart" rally held on Monday, March 5. Of that group, 28 were students.

Sophomore Sam Thompson was impressed with how many people were present. The rotunda was filled, people were standing three deep on the second floor balcony and more were watching from the third floor railing, he said.

Superintendent Howard Caldwell said groups at the rally supporting education were from all over the state. "I felt the rally was worthwhile and hope it has a positive outcome," he added.

The rally was sponsored by a coalition of education organizations, including Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers' union. Education Minnesota-Paynesville, the local teachers union, covered the cost of the bus for the trip.

In the wake of the rally, Governor Jesse Ventura has criticized school districts for allowing students out of school to attend it. Paynesville students were required to have their homework done in advance before they boarded the bus for St. Paul.

The Paynesville delegation arrived early and had a chance to tour the capitol before the rally started at 10 a.m. Following the rally, they met with local legislators and learne about the legislative process.

During the tour, teachers Cheryl Bungum and Dawn Knoll and junior Mark Braun were interviewed for television by a Channel 5 reporter. Bungum said Governor Ventura keeps asking for proof of where the money is being spent, but it's hard to show proof as school financing and accounting are complicated.

Bungum added that many of the funds are only designated for one year, then the schools are expected to continue the programs without further financial aid, placing a strain on district budgets.

Braun felt the trip was worthwhile in getting the message to legislators. He said school districts lose money every year. Adding to the strain on the budget this year is the high cost of fuel.

Laura Thompson and her two sons, Ezra and Peder, took part in the rally. "It was a good experience for the boys. It was heartening to see all the students, parents, and teachers come together for a common cause," Thompson said. Because Minnesota is a leader in education, it's hard to see the lack of funding in education, she added.

The Paynesville delegation had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring), Senator Steve Dille (R-Dassel), and Senator Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).

According to Charlene Strand, the elementary music teacher, Rep. Stang (pictured above right talked to the Paynesville group) talked with the group 40 minutes, explaining the inner workings of the house and the deadline for bills.

"The trip was a good opportunity for the students to see firsthand where laws are made and have a hand in the process," Thompson said. "Attending the rally was another way for parents to show kids they care."

Stang told the Paynesville group the House is proposing higher spending limits and Fischbach said the Senate is proposing higher limits yet. "We were told we'd get more than what the governor proposed," said Rick Paul, a parent who attended the rally.

"I think they (legislators) already have their minds made up," Paul said. "They'll do what they want."

"I felt the rally made an impact on legislators," Bungum said.

Letter writing campaign
Prior to the rally, Paynesville students, parents, and teachers had sent more than 600 letters supporting more funding for schools to legislators at the capitol.

"We were told to keep the letters coming. However, don't write about statistics but personal stories on how school budget cuts affect students individually," Bungum said.

Caldwell agreed letters with emotional factors on how budget cuts affect students will have more of an impact on legislators than statistics.

"We can't sit back and not say anything. We need to try to change Governor Ventura's mind," Bungum said. "We need to be working together for the future of our kids."

Caldwell received word that the House Republican caucus will meet Thursday to discuss their budget for education, so calling, e-mailing, or faxing before then is important.

Education funding
Caldwell said the impact of the lobbying won't be known until the end of the session, when the education budget is approved. "The proof will be in the end result," Caldwell added.

"Education needs to be adequately funded. It's not something to play around with," said Paul.

The Paynesville Area School District cut $512,000 from its budget to help make ends meet. School board members have said that if the Legislature doesn't increase the governor's budget proposal, more cuts will have to be made next year.

At the rally, Willmar Superinten-dent Kathy Leedom said the Willmar schools would have to cut an additional $1.3 million for the 2001-02 school year if the governor's budget is passed. The Willmar district is in the process of cutting $1.5 million from its budget for next year.

March for Education
A second rally, "March for Education," is being planned for Tuesday, March 27, on the steps of the capitol by the Winona Area Public Schools. Grassroots advocates from across Minnesota will meet from 10:30 a.m. to noon to demand adequate funding for education.

Local educators will be taking the fourth grade class to St. Paul to sing "Education Rocks" on the capitol steps.

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