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Group of area educators tell lawmakers to get budget done right

WILLMAR -- A group of 25 administrators, staff members and teachers from area school districts told three state legislators Tuesday morning at Willmar School District headquarters to pass a budget and provide adequate funding for education.

They said flat funding has forced schools to cut millions of dollars from budgets in recent years, increase class sizes, eliminate early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school opportunities, and lay off staff.

Montevideo Schools Superintendent Luther Heller said class sizes in his district are 36 to 40 students in the high school and 25 to 30 students in the elementary grades, and he said middle school exploratory classes have been gutted.

Heller said the statement said by some people that education has been held harmless is ludicrous.

"We have not been held harmless,'' said Heller. "We might have to eliminate senior high band. I did not go to Montevideo to dismantle the school. You have got to get back to business in St. Paul and let us do our job.''

The educators met with Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, ranking member of the E-12 Finance Committee; Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, DFL lead on early childhood; and Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis and member of the E-12 Finance and Policy Committees.

They met with educators to discuss the state budget impasse and hear what educators have to say.

Greiling said state education funding has been flat since 1984 if inflation is factored in and special education and building costs are factored out.

"That is why we're having these kinds of stories (in this room) about what bad things are happening to our students,'' Greiling said.

Kim Olson of Milan, who works in the Lac qui Parle Valley School District's Appleton Elementary School, said students need as many opportunities as possible to take classes that they need for their future. Olson said her daughter in college was faulted in a literature class because she did not properly cite references in a research paper.

"I feel she missed out on learning about that because the advanced writing class was cut that she was not able to take part in,'' Olson said. "I think Minnesota needs to reinvest in education.''

Willmar High School Principal Rob Anderson said there has been a paradigm shift during the past 20 or more years from thinking about education as an investment to education as an expense.

"It is not an expense. It is an investment,'' Anderson said.

Davnie said lawmakers' goal is to have their ears open and find a way to bring the Legislature to a compromise. "I see no need for a shutdown,'' he said.

Slawik said the Legislature ended with a fizzle.

"We know there are serious consequences for Minnesota and you,'' she said. "We want to hear from you. Tell your story to your communities. Talk to your legislators. It's going to be a difficult time in Minnesota. People need to see the pain. You need to use your frustration in a good way. It takes a lot of heat to make change. Use your voice.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150