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Paynesville Press - Nov. 5, 2003

School board discusses education with Fischbach

By Michael Jacobson

Senator Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) attended the school board meeting last week to discuss legislative issues concerning schools with the board. A great deal of her conversation with the board focused on the new state standards.

Board chairman Pat Flanders related a number of concerns about the new state standards, specifically the proposed standards for social science.

The wasted time and money used to develop the Profiles of Learning, now dropped, and the number of state standards in the past makes school staff cynical about the next set of state standards, Flanders told Fischbach. He is cynical himself and does not have the patience exhibited by the staff, he said.

Gretchen O'Fallon, another school board, said staff aren't the only ones who are cynical about the new state standards. Students, too, are tired of the changes, she said.

When asked why the Profiles of Learning was repealed completely, Fischbach answered that "many of us did not think it would work from the beginning. It was too involved. It was too much paperwork."

To which board member Mark Dingmann asked, "Why didn't you wait to come up with something new before dumping it?"

That was debated, said Fischbach, but the majority voted that the Profiles were too bad and needed to be scrapped.

The new 94-page proposed standards for social science to be reviewed by the Legislature at their session next year don't have a prayer of being accepted and effective, Flanders told Fischbach.

They mostly require memorization, he added. "It's not education; it's trivial pursuit," he said of the social science standards, which delineate what facts are to be known in which grade. "They're just standards for testing. It's not education."

Plus, they have a political agenda, said Flanders, noting that they require students to know the Republican presidents since 1960 but not the Democratic.

Fischbach did not argue these points but wondered what a possible solution could be. Flanders suggested depoliticizing the issue of state standards, but Fischbach noted that would be difficult at the Legislature. "How do you depoliticize it?" she asked.

Another complaint from the school district is that the specific information required in each grade does not match the district's current curriculum. While textbooks will eventually exist that teaches to these standards, the district still does not have the money to purchase new books every time the state standards are changed.

Flanders said that since the district has a six-year purchasing cycle for new textbooks, it would always be behind the ever-changing state requirements.

Superintendent Howard Caldwell asked Fischbach if she foresaw any increases in school funding in the future. (The state has already budgeted no increase in 2004-05.)

Fischbach said they would be focusing on bonding in the upcoming session but probably would need an emergency budget bill, too, but not to expect any increases.

Freezing state funding touches schools, contrary to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's promises, noted Flanders, since schools face rising costs with stagnant state funding. While the state's fiscal forecast does not indicate any extra dollars for education, the Legislature could revisit giving discretionary levying power to school districts. This would enable school districts to raise its local property tax levy without a voter referendum.

This might be fair, since school board members are elected themselves, said Fischbach.

The Legislature will also consider its overall funding formula for school districts, which currently does not pay equal rates throughout the state, said Fischbach, to the detriment of rural school districts like Paynesville.

School districts that offer all-day, everyday kindergarten, like Paynesville does, would also like to be reimbursed for kindergarteners as full-time students, said Caldwell.

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