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Baker discusses legislative session with School Board

Tribune file photo State Rep. Dave Baker met with the Willmar School Board Monday to review the past legislative session.

WILLMAR — When state Rep. Dave Baker met with the Willmar School Board Monday, at least part of the discussion was about things that didn't happen.

In the Minnesota House of Representatives where Baker, R-Willmar, serves, the plan was to send Gov. Mark Dayton four separate spending bills, he said, but the Senate fought to send one combined bill. "We went along with that; it was a big risk, and it backfired."

Dayton vetoed the spending bill, a combination of ideas he liked and disliked.

"We worked on a lot of good things," Baker told the board, but the veto took many of them away.

"We did get some things done, and we got a lot of things ready to go next time," he said.

The bonding bill included $25 million for school safety grants. Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington said grant application forms aren't available yet, but administrators are working on a plan so they will be ready.

"School safety was a huge issue," Baker said. "As tragic as so many things are that we are seeing, we thought it was important to give school districts the tools they needed,"

School districts may apply for what they need for their district, whether that's increased mental health support or improved building security, he said.

Baker said he felt good about the state's support for education in the four years he's served in the Legislature. "There's never enough money," he said, but increases in funding should help school districts afford to keep quality staff members in classrooms.

Superintendent Jeff Holm thanked Baker for the Legislature's unanimous support for an employee pension bill. "That's significant when we talk about wanting to add good people on our staff," he said.

Holm said school districts in the area were pleased with $5 million in the bonding bill to be used to remodel and update the old school in Cosmos. The work is part of a plan to develop sites for special education children with special needs that are difficult to meet in a school setting. It includes some children with autism, severe disabilities or emotional/behavioral disorders.

There's an effort to develop several such sites in southwestern Minnesota. "It's important to upgrade the facility and make it fit its mission," Holm said.

Baker asked board members to give him feedback on new ways of ranking schools under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

He doesn't like the new methods, he said, but he didn't support legislative efforts to change it either. He said he wanted to hear from people working in the system about how it's working.

Board member Linda Mathiasen said the rankings look at graduation rates. Willmar's rates are affected by the number of young refugees whose educations were interrupted. Many of them do graduate but it takes them longer than four years.

Mathiasen said nearly 90 percent of this year's graduating class in Willmar plan to seek some type of post-secondary education. "If you want to add measurements, let's measure how many students are looking toward their future," she added.

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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