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Legislators meet with ACGC School Board

GROVE CITY -- Allocating new money to fund a longer school year and all-day, everyday kindergarten will come down to making legislative choices on how to spend the state's money, according to local legislators who met Monday with the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar; Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel; Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar; and Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, met with the ACGC School Board to discuss legislative concerns. Because this is a bonding year for the Legislature, school funding will not be on the table. Discussion of school funding and programs, however, is expected to take place.

ACGC Superintendent Pamela Kyllingstad said the legislators talked about transportation costs and open-enrollment issues that can cause funding problems for small, rural schools.

Even with a projected $1 billion state budget surplus, Kyllingstad said the legislators said that about $700,000 million of that is already earmarked for other projects.

She said all the legislators expressed support for increased kindergarten and early childhood programs but that "it comes back to choices" and how much money "is in the coffers."

Because a change in culture and farm technology no longer requires a majority of Minnesota children to work on farms in the summer, Kyllingstad said the legislators have been discussing the possibility of extending the school year.

Based on what the legislators said, Kyllingstad said making the school year longer "won't happen this year, but the conversation about it probably will."

The board also heard a report from Peggy Starz, from North Elementary in Atwater, on a $12,000 Mardag Foundation grant the district received for a two-year, preschool literacy program. The program will emphasize the importance of parents spending time reading and talking to their preschool children to prepare them for kindergarten and being able to read.

Kyllingstad said research indicates that if a parent spends 1.1 hours a day interacting and communicating with a preschool child, that child will have 10,000 to 12,000 words in his vocabulary by the time they go to kindergarten and start to learn how to read.

By contrast, she said, children who receive two minutes of parental interaction a day will have about 4,000 words in their vocabulary.

Kyllingstad updated the board on a Feb. 3 meeting with area superintendents where speakers discussed how school could be affected in the case of a flu pandemic.

Kyllingstad said this was the first time local school officials had been informed about their potential role if a pandemic hit. She said the school portion of the pandemic plan that's being prepared by the Minnesota Department of Health has not been completed yet.

In other action the board:

- Agreed to work with Northland Securities to pursue reissuing building bonds in order to reduce the interest rate.

- Heard from a citizen who expressed concern about a lack of communication between the board and the community.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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