Local lawmakers expect action on flexible school schedules
MONTEVIDEO -- No guarantees at this point, but debate in the Legislature over bills allowing flexible school schedules and requests to fund a nursing home for veterans in Montevideo are moving in the right directions, according to local legislators.
MONTEVIDEO - No guarantees at this point, but debate in the Legislature over bills allowing flexible school schedules and requests to fund a nursing home for veterans in Montevideo are moving in the right directions, according to local legislators.
Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, told a breakfast gathering Saturday in Montevideo that they are hearing support from their colleagues for both issues.
“From my perspective I’ve had some really good news,’’ said Miller of his bill that would allow school districts to set their own school schedules. He and Koenen both have authored bills aimed at allowing MACCRAY and other districts with four-day weeks to continue to keep the schedule. The Commissioner of Education has ordered the districts to transition back to a five-day schedule next school year.
Miller’s bill is the most far reaching: It would give all local school boards the authority to set their own schedules. Koenen’s bill would grandfather in the eight districts that have four-day schedules, MACCRAY included, for another five years.
Miller said recent testimony by MACCRAY four-day supporters to the Education Innovation Policy Committee in the House has had an impact. He said he will be meeting with the committee’s DFL lead member, Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul. Miller said the DFL lead and others have suggested to him that they are more open to the idea of flexible scheduling after hearing the testimony from MACCRAY and other districts.
Koenen met recently with Gov. Mark Dayton, Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius, and Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, chairman of the Education Committee. Wiger told the governor that either one of the bills now in the chambers or an amendment from the floor - likely from Koenen - is certain to emerge from the session, said Koenen.
It’s the governor who is opposed to flexible scheduling, and not necessarily the commissioner, according to Koenen.
Both legislators said they believe that Koenen’s bill is the more likely of the two to survive since it represents more of a compromise.
Superintendent Renae Tostenson, Lac qui Parle Valley Schools, told the legislators that her rural district covering 765 square miles is also interested in a four-day week. Concerns about disadvantaged children who would not receive a fifth day’s meal have kept the district from adopting the schedule. She said the district and others in the state should have the option.
A major bonding bill that would include funding for a veterans’ nursing home in Montevideo is not likely to happen this session, but chances are much improved for next year, according to the legislators.
The chairs of the bonding committees in each of the chambers have asked to meet with them to discuss the projects, the legislators said.
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has listed 144 available beds that could be added to the system in Minnesota, they said. A proposal that would split the allotment and allow separate 70-bed facilities in Bemidji and Montevideo is winning favor, according to Koenen.
He supports it too, and pointed out that it helps meets gaps for veteran services in both areas.
Miller said the federal government realizes there is a need to care for a growing population of female veterans, and noted that Montevideo is working to address it.
Marv Garbe, who is leading the Montevideo proposal, said they are currently working with the project architect to update the plans. The update includes setting a 10-bed pod within the 70-bed facility for female residents.
The governor’s proposal to mandate 50-foot buffers along waterways will be facing opposition, according to the legislators.
“The governor’s idea of having the (Department of Natural Resources) enforce that is trouble right from the start because the relationship between the farmers and DNR is not good,’’ Koenen said.
“The way the governor proposed it, I can’t support it,’’ Miller said. He said he has a fundamental problem with government “saying you are going to do this with your land.’’
Koenen said he likes the idea of buffers for the improved water quality and habitat they offer, and noted that his family has installed them on farmland voluntarily and without compensation. He said he was open to a suggestion raised at the meeting by Jim Dahlvang, a member of the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners.
Dahlvang said that the Board of Water and Soil Resources and other state agencies could withhold water quality funding to counties that do not enforce buffer regulations.
The commissioner noted that county boards, as the local ditch authority, are responsible for enforcing the regulations. He said it is not easy for individual, rural commissioners to tell their neighbors they have to comply with buffer laws.