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Dayton's message of togetherness is a practice for area schools, businesses

WILLMAR -- In his inaugural speech Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton asked Minnesotans to work together to solve the state's budget problems, which include a $6.2 billion projected budget deficit.

One of his suggestions was that businesses should adopt the schools in their communities.

In his speech, Dayton asked every business in the state to adopt a school -- "A little money, a lot of help, technical expertise, remedial reading volunteers, adult mentors, new books, used computers. Make that school's progress your shared responsibility."

While there's not a structured "adoption" program in Willmar, businesses and schools in the area do work together.

"I think, for years, we have been practicing that," said Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, in an interview Monday afternoon.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard agreed that businesses do help schools in many ways.

Schools in Willmar and in Kandiyohi County have benefitted from business sponsorship of things like field trips, music programs and athletics, Warner said.

Other area schools also benefit in those ways from their local businesses.

Area businesses have employees who read books with children in the schools or work in other programs. Service clubs are involved, too.

Rotary members in Willmar volunteer for the Rotary Readers program, reading with elementary students who need some extra attention. Strive, another Rotary program, works with struggling high school seniors.

Kjergaard said the school district would find ways to work with businesses that wanted to support the district.

"But to be honest, we just need solid funding," he said. "We need to get the money back (the state owes) us." In recent years, the state has delayed aid payments to school districts so that the state could maintain its own cash flow.

Kjergaard said one of his goals is to raise money to add modern science classrooms at Willmar Middle School, and he would be glad to have help with that.

Warner said he thinks the business community would be open to a more formal involvement with the schools if guidelines were spelled out. One stumbling block can be time constraints, because schools have so many regulations to follow and many demands on them throughout a school day, he said.

Sometimes the government mandates "can get in the way of local collaboration," he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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