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Paynesville Press - April 26, 2006

School receives award from Sen. Dayton

By Addi Larson

"You are the future leaders of our society, and we need your leadership," Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minnesota) said to Paynesville Area High School students when he presented his Award for Excellence in Education to the Paynesville Area School District on Thursday, April 20, in the high school auditorium.

Sen. Dayton with PAHS students Paynesville is among 46 schools in Minnesota to receive the award for going above and beyond expectations in students' education and enrichment. Dayton said that the award was his way of recognizing schools, educators, and students for their outstanding success stories in an era of objective scholastic aptitude measured through testing.

Dayton did mention that PAHS is the only rural high school in Minnesota to have achieved five-star ratings in both reading and math in last year's state rankings, required by No Child Left Behind. PAHS media specialist Joan Nevitt, whose daughter works in Dayton's office at Ft. Snelling, applied for the award on the school's behalf.

Sen. Mark Dayton spent an hour in Paynesville on Thursday, April 20, including 40 minutes in a question-and-answer session with 50 students.

During the senator's presentation, a framed award certificate and a copy of the Congressional Record recognizing the Paynesville Area Schools were given to seniors Mark Andrie, Breana Kochmann, and Megan Reeck and superintendent Todd Burlingame. Dayton also presented the students with an American flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Andrie presented a Paynesville Bulldogs baseball jersey and cap to Dayton, who remarked about the Bulldogs' state title in baseball in 2005, bringing a smile to Andrie's face, and noted that he was once a goalie for Yale University's varsity hockey team, also the Bulldogs.

Dayton, who said he values quality education, taught ninth grade science in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of New York City and referred to his two-year teaching career as the toughest job he has ever done.

Dayton stayed in Paynesville for about an hour on Thursday morning, where he spent 10 minutes greeting school officials, including five school board members; 40 minutes answering questions in the auditorium from 50 high school students; and 10 minutes with the award presentation. Dayton then headed to Morris Elementary School and Renville County West High School for similar award ceremonies.

During the question-and-answer session, PAHS and PAMS students asked Dayton about a range of topics, including student aid, No Child Left Behind, immigration, the Patriot Act, high price of gasoline, alternative fuel sources, and agriculture. Paynesville students arrived at the ceremony with questions prepared for the senator, who credited the students, at the end of their questioning, for being so astute: "You deserve a huge amount of credit and recognition and applause, I must say," he told them, before starting a round of applause.

Dayton told the Paynesville students that the interaction with them and their viewpoints gives him "a lot more confidence and optimism," and advocated, "All of you, get as much education as you can. It's gonna benefit you. It's gonna benefit the country. We need all of you and your generation to be successful."

A student's first question was about affording more education with student aid from the government being reduced. This, said Dayton, is hypocritical of current government policies to expect their generation to attain education without providing the means for it. "It's penny wise and pound foolish," he said of the current policy.

In response to students' questions about the No Child Left Behind Act, Dayton said, "The failure to fund public education in the federal and state, I think, is the biggest failure in my lifetime." He said he voted against the measure due to the lack of funding.

The senator said that an unwieldy burden has been placed upon education due to a lack of acknowledgement to teachers, superintendents, and school board members. He said No Child Left Behind is misguided, requiring progress (i.e. better test scores) without providing the funding necessary to actually do that.

In the five years he has been in office, Dayton said he has offered seven amendments to fund education. All have failed. Having been unsuccessful as a minority member of the Senate is one reason why he is not running for re-election, said Dayton, who was elected in 2000 but is not seeking re-election in 2006.

Junior Chelsey Kalkbrenner asked the senator about his views on immigration and the effects on the country's workforce.

Since the United States has 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants right now, its current immigration policy is "the most broken down, failed system in my 30 years in government," said Dayton, who argued for better border security, expecting employers not to hire illegal workers, and having some way for them to become legal residents.

Illegal immigrants from Mexico are often motivated by "attractive wages," Dayton said. And, he added, "We need more workers in our society over the course of the next 20 years, because my generation [of baby boomers] is going to retire."

While disliking the term amnesty, Dayton said he feels that there has to be some way for illegal immigrants to change their status, earning citizenship over a five- to ten-year period, since deporting 11 or 12 million people is not practicable.

Kalkbrenner concluded that blue-collar immigrant employees are, in fact, valuable to this country, and there should be an ardent acceptance of this.

Dayton responded by saying that she summed it up better in one minute than he did in three.

Senior Shawn Reinke asked the senator about his stance on the Patriot Act, of which Dayton voted for authorization and re-authorization.

Balancing citizens' privacy rights in the fight against terrorism is critical, said Dayton, while also addressing the seriousness of the terrorist threat. He said we need law enforcement to find those who are plotting to do terrible destruction to this country and get them out or imprisoned.

Reinke said that when he is talking to his friends on his mobile phone he does not want George W. Bush to be listening.

Dayton agreed on government wire-tapping of phone calls in the U.S.: "It's illegal and wrong."

When asked about the current price of gasoline, Dayton responded by saying, "I think there's a lot of profiteering going on. It's hard to nail down."

He also said that he supported alternatives, like ethanol. "I think the world price of oil, because of the basic law of supply and demand, will go up...," he said. "If the prices stay high, people are going to be looking for alternatives on a permanent basis."

Finally, a student inquiring about agriculture was told by Dayton that when he served in state offices, he thought the goal of federal ag policies was to have commodity prices high enough, so farmers could make a profit. He was surprised when he got to Washington, D.C., though, that good commodity prices for farmers are not the goal; in fact, powerful interests (food processors, etc.) want low commodity prices to maximize their profits.

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