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Willmar School Board, Baker discuss education successes at Capitol

Clay Conover / Tribune Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, right, speaks Monday to members of the Willmar School Board, including Laura Warne.

WILLMAR — Prairie Lakes Youth Programs in Willmar can offer educational programs all summer now.

In recent years, the youth detention center had limited programming in summer.

The 2017 Minnesota Legislature approved the funding to allow summer school for young people in the youth correctional program.

When he met Monday with the Willmar School Board, state Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, thanked school officials for testifying in favor of the legislation. Willmar Public Schools does not operate Prairie Lakes, but the district provides educational services there.

Baker listed other accomplishments related to education including a 2 percent increase in state aid in each of the next two years and property tax relief for farmers in school districts with bond debt, such as Willmar.

"I'm pretty proud of what we got done this year in education," Baker said.

The state also put more funding into a voluntary prekindergarten program, gave local boards more power in determining teacher layoff procedures and made changes to the teacher licensing system, Baker said.

School officials testified in St. Paul about the importance of the Prairie Lakes program, Baker said. The summer program will help young people who have fallen behind and need to catch up on credits for graduation.

In districts whose voters have approved a bond for construction projects, the state will pay part of the tax bill for agricultural land through a tax credit.

Willmar's voters approved a $52.35 million building program two years ago in a referendum. "Farmers are very happy," said Baker, who added that he had seen a lot of support for the tax bill.

Board member Linda Mathiasen asked Baker if state officials feel it was more expensive to educate students in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, since they receive more state aid.

Buildings are aging in rural areas, and energy costs are rising, Mathiasen said. Districts also have personnel and retirement costs to consider.

Baker agreed that funding for rural and metro schools "should be the same, or it should be a lot closer."

Rural teachers should be paid the same as those in metro areas, he said. Rural schools deal with more transportation issues, including more traveling for sports and other activities, he added.

Rural areas also can face greater costs for teacher recruiting.

"There's a lot of rural noise in St. Paul right now," Baker said, and legislators are trying to work toward more equitable funding.

"We can't change it overnight," Baker said. "I certainly understand we need to do a better job getting our funding up."

Baker praised Willmar school officials and those in the other districts in his legislative district.

They answer his questions and contact him about legislation that's important to them, he said, and they are an important resource, as they can help him understand how a teacher or board member might see an issue.

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

(320) 214-4340