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Paynesville Press - October 20, 2004

District 14B candidates discuss education with board

By Michael Jacobson

Jim DeRose (R-Richmond) and Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) - the two candidates to replace Doug Stang in House District 14B, which includes Paynesville - discussed education issues with the Paynesville Area School Board last week.

Both candidates called education their top issue, and they agreed that more state funding is needed for it.

Hosch, the mayor of St. Joseph, pointed to all the school referendums across the state, where school districts try to raise additional revenue by a voter-approved tax levy. "It's clear that needs aren't being met," he said.

DeRose has taught for 28 years in the BBE School District - and has also owned the Riverside Resort in Richmond for 25 years - is currently on leave from teaching. He said he was always frustrated that school spending never kept pace with inflation.

That so many schools are in financial trouble means that inadequate state funding, not mismanagement, is the problem, said DeRose, who noted that the state spent 60 percent of its budget on education in the 1960s but now spends only 40 percent. "There's money there. The state's getting money. We just have to get our share," DeRose said.

DeRose said he met or called the superintendents in District 14B after being nominated by the Republican Party for the House and said that funding all-day kindergarten was one priority for them.

While Hosch and DeRose agreed that education deserved more funding, they differed on how to get it.

Property taxes are not a fair way to fund education, DeRose and Hosch agreed. The proposed building project for the Rocori School District would mean a fraction of the property taxes per household in a wealthy school district like Hopkins, DeRose noted. Hosch said education is a statewide investment for Minnesota and thus should be funded adequately by the state, and not left to hit-and-miss local property levies.

While DeRose noted that the state government is still growing and the state budget deficit comes from too much spending growth, Hosch charged that the "no new taxes" pledge by Republicans had just pushed tax increases down to the local level. St. Joseph, he said, lost $200,000 in state aid, compensated by property taxes.

DeRose said he believes that streamlining government and greater efficiency could save billions in state spending, but Hosch said he believes that the state government already runs pretty efficiently. Hosch supported looking at ways to make it run even more efficiently but doubted that it would reap great financial windfalls while DeRose said that more education funding could be gotten by reprioritizing state spending.

Hosch said that he was not afraid of taxing, that he supported closing corporation loopholes, and that he would consider things like expanding the sales tax. For clothing, he said, maybe $20 should be exempt for a pair of pants (buying the necessities) but then sales tax should apply to more expensive pairs.

DeRose, on the other hand, express support for getting more revenue from gambling. The state, said DeRose, should get $300-$500 million either from renegotiating the gambling contracts with Native American tribes in Minnesota or starting a Racino, possibly in the Mall of America, either run or partnered with the state.

Both DeRose and Hosch opposed the federal standards in No Child Left Behind. Hosch said he supports school accountability but that cannot be determined through "snapshot" testing, meaning testing of students on just one day and then comparing their scores to previous years or to their peers in other schools. Instead, Hosch supports longitudinal testing, meaning testing the same students from K-12 to measure progress.

DeRose agreed that testing at the start and the end of the year would be a better judge of student progress. He opposed No Child Left Behind primarily because it took control over the curriculum away from the local level. When he was in North Branch, he said, a test in October included elements that the school normally taught in April, forcing the school to redo its curriculum or look bad on the test.

What the federal government should do for education, said DeRose, is "get off our backs."

No Child Left Behind is another unfunded mandate, said Hosch. "That's where these tax increases are coming from. That's why there are so many referendums. We're asking (schools) to do more with less," he explained.

Board member Bonnie Strobbe, a former school administrator, called state and federal policy on education a juxtaposition - reduced funds, increased expectations, and punishments under No Child Left Behind.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) - who has served in the Minnesota Senate since 1996 and who also attended the hour-long discussion with the school board - said that the legislative process can be frustrating. Since the state and federal governments provide a lot of funding towards education, they also want a say in education policy.

When board member Tami Stanger noted that Minnesota ranks #1 in spending on education for prisoners but ranks behind Alabama on K-12 spending, Fischbach said the state was looking into that spending on prisoners and that it "shouldn't be that way." Stanger's point, though, was not that we spend too much on prisoners but that we spend too little on K-12 education.

Board member Mark Dingmann said that in three years on the school board he has heard lots of promises from legislators about the importance of education but he had seen few results.

Hosch agreed that education needs less lip service: "The rhetoric is not meeting the reality." Just saying education is your #1 priority is not enough, he explained.

Hosch said, if elected, he would work in a bi-partisan manner. He said he would vote his conscience, then vote for his constituents, and only then vote for his caucus.

DeRose said he was a "voice of experience" on education. "I've been in the classroom. I know what it's like," he said.

(Editor's Note: For more information about DeRose and Hosch, turn to the Voters' Guide.)

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