Huge turnout for Association of Metropolitan School Districts session preview

Over 200 metropolitan area legislators, legislative staff, Minnesota Department of Education officials and Association of Metropolitan School Districts education leaders gathered on January 6 for the 2017 Session Preview.

The annual event provides an opportunity to share AMSD’s Legislative Platform with legislators as well as highlight some of the needs and challenges facing AMSD member school districts. Rochester Supt. Michael Munoz, Prior Lake-Savage Supt. Teri Staloch and Supt Chris Lennox and Board Chair Amy Jones of Mounds View Public Schools, offered presentations that highlighted some of the key provisions in AMSD’s 2017 Legislative Platform.

Representative Randy Jessup and Mounds View Schools Superintendent Chris Lennox. (Photo courtesy of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, amsd.org)
Representative Randy Jessup and Mounds View Schools Superintendent Chris Lennox. (Photo courtesy of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, amsd.org)

Supt. Munoz reviewed the student demographics in his district and noted that 15.7% of Rochester’s students receive special education services and over 80 languages are spoken in their schools. Munoz discussed the AMSD platform position to reduce the State share of the special education funding shortfall by 25 percent. Special education costs exceeded state and federal special education aid by over $385 million for AMSD member districts and in Rochester Public Schools, the special education cross-subsidy has grown from $9.70 million in 2011-12 to $15.60 million in 2015-16.

Munoz also spoke about mandate relief, noting that one size fits all mandates stifle innovation and creativity and urged legislators to refrain from enacting any new unfunded mandates. Munoz noted several unfunded mandates and their impact, especially how Minnesota special education law exceeds federal law in several areas including the timing of transition services, restrictive procedures, caseloads and alternative dispute resolution and due process hearings.

Supt. Staloch discussed the AMSD platform position that calls for enhancing local control to encourage innovation, specifically, to expand the innovation zone law to allow school districts to try new instructional models, personalize student learning and increase collaboration with post-secondary institutions and businesses.
There are currently five innovation zone pilot projects in Minnesota and Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools has partnered with Lakeville Area Schools for the Minnesota Center for Advanced Professional Studies. You can watch a video here that details the program. Superintendent Staloch called on the legislators to expand the program to allow for new research, expand partnerships and explore new research opportunities.

Supt. Staloch discussed the district’s significant growth in student enrollment since 2004-5 and how the district is experiencing growth at all grade levels. The district is under space constraints with almost all of their buildings nearing or over capacity. In May of 2016, the district went to the voters with a bond and technology levy request. The tax impact would have been $31 a month on a $300,000 home and the question failed with 53% of voters voting against the referendum.

The district is now engaged in short-term and long-term facilities planning working with a citizens’ advisory committee. Superintendent Staloch reviewed AMSD’s Legislative Platform position to increase equalization of the operating referendum, debt service and local optional levies to reduce taxpayer and education funding disparities. Property tax levies play a critical role in funding education programs and facilities, however, these levies have widely varying impacts on local property taxpayers depending on the property wealth of the school district.

Mounds View Supt. Lennox and Board Chair Jones discussed AMSD’s platform position of increasing the basic formula allowance by at least 2.5 percent per year and indexing it to inflation. Superintendent Lennox noted that the formula has lost significant ground to inflation and would be $550 per pupil higher today if it had simply kept up with inflation since 2003.

Board Chair Jones discussed the district’s enrollment and student demographics and noted that during the 2015-16 school year, 82% of students in grades 10-12 were enrolled in a college-level course. The AMSD Platform calls on legislators to ensure all students have the opportunity to take rigorous, college preparatory classes and dual credit courses to earn college credit. Superintendent Lennox reviewed the concurrent enrollment program in Minnesota and the Early College program at Mounds View Public Schools. He also discussed the recent faculty credentialing rule change and urged legislators to expand the Northwest Partnerships Program statewide to make sure all school districts are able to help their concurrent enrollment staff gain the credits they need to meet the new credentialing requirement.

The Legislative Session Preview also included an update from Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and a legislative panel consisting of Representative Jenifer Loon, Representative Jim Davnie, Senator Carla Nelson and Senator Chuck Wiger. The legislators shared an overview of their goals and expectations for the 2017 legislative session and answered questions from AMSD members.

Article reprinted here, courtesy of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, amsd.org