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Educating a State


Sun, Dec 24th, 2000
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Monday, December 25, 2000

What are our educational problems? There is no such thing as a perfect school, but we can try to get as close as we can. Minnesota has many education problems in its system, some of which were addressed at an open forum held in the Lanesboro School library on Wednesday, December 13th. The forum’s guest speaker was Lieutenant Governor Mae Schunk. Everyone was able to voice their opinion about what a perfect school in Southeast Minnesota would be like. The group determined that people have many answers for the state’s problems, but no real solutions.

Mrs. Schunk introduced herself as a Minnesota school teacher of thirty-seven years. She recently ended this position while campaigning with Governor Jesse Ventura. Now that she is lieutenant governor, she has vowed to visit every school district in the state in an effort to improve the state’s education programs as a whole. Schunk commented, "It’s important to come and take your messages back to the Capitol, to the people there who can make a difference in our education."

Schunk has described this goal as "fixing schools." How does she plan to do this? Working with legislators and other state officials, Schunk has been lobbying for smaller class sizes and improving reading and analysis skills in kindergarten through third grades through these smaller class sizes. She has also been aiming to improve basic reading and math skills in the commonly overcrowded middle and high schools.

Many people, however, believe the way to improve education in our rural schools is to equalize funding. It is almost impossible to have equal funding among all districts in the state, but there is a definite pattern. Metro schools receive more funding than rural Minnesota districts, to which Schunk responds, "No, its not fair." Lanesboro Superintendent Rick Lamon commented that "The (state funding) system is complex and unnecessarily difficult." So what is so difficult about this system? Each school is awarded different amounts of state funding based on a formula composed of a base dollar amount, compensatory funding, transportation funding, plus their referendum taxes, in addition to several other factors. The point behind this is that some schools are receiving a mere $5,301 dollars per student per year, while other schools like Bellview, Nett Lake, and other schools in and around Indian reservations are reaping a grand total of $9,600 and more. Lanesboro is receiving $6,232 per year, Rushford-Peterson ranks at $6,300, while Mabel-Canton School District receives $6,265. Why the difference? Schunk justifies this spending by concluding that this money is given because Metro schools have an overall higher number of disabilities and more specialty programs, like teaching English as a second language. It also has some to do with the amount of referendum taxes the people are willing to pay and the financial state of the people in the district.

Another issue that was discussed was the teacher shortage in Minnesota. Everyone has been asking, "What is the best way to heal this problem?" In response to this issue, Schunk’s stand was to subsidize the salaries to make the job more appealing to the younger workforce. However, she did mention that the reason teachers make a lower salary compared to other professional fields is because some teachers work only nine months a year. However, this is not true in all cases, especially with certificate renewal education.

Mae Schunk’s main purpose in coming was to listen to Lanesboro’s issues and concerns, and observe our successes. Lanesboro does have many accomplishments it can take credit for. The reason Lanesboro Public Schools is successful is the people. Lanesboro creates a family atmosphere in our school, some of which was credited to Superintendent Rick Lamon and his staff. Schunk also commented that she was impressed with the day care facilities, which were a pilot project for the state, as well as the vo-ag wing facilities she toured that day.

In addition to Mae Schunk’s visit to Lanesboro High School, Representative Greg Davids (R) of Preston took her to visit other schools, Fillmore Central, Rushford-Peterson, Caledonia, and Grand Meadow, to name a few. Davids was an instrumental part of Schunk’s tour, as he is familiar with the area and helped provide a more immediate view to the issues discussed.

Schunk’s visit to Southeast Minnesota proved to be worthwhile to address some problems in education and opened many people’s eyes to what is really happening in our government.

Amy Hazel

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