Top school priorities voiced to local representatives
Special education and facility upkeep funding should be on the list of priorities for representatives.
That was the message Thursday as Brainerd school officials voiced their concerns to local representatives for the next legislative session.
At the district’s Legislative Committee meeting Thursday, local representatives in attendance were: Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, and Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd.
The first issue brought forward was funding for special education. Federal and state reimbursement doesn’t match the demand Brainerd is seeing in its special education department, said Superintendent Steve Razidlo.
At 18.3 percent, the district has a higher than average special education population, said Steve Lund, director of business services. Because of that high number, the district pulls an average of $5 million a year from its general fund for special education programs.
School leaders would like that number to decrease.
The second issue is funding for facilities. There are disparities for districts with older facilities like Brainerd, Lund said.
Brainerd gets $2 million a year for its facility upkeep. Half of that goes toward equipment. The other $1 million must stretch to care for the district’s 12 aging buildings, Lund said. Those buildings have a value of $250 million.
Legislative Committee chair Sue Kern said she was concerned about the unfunded mandate of teacher and principal evaluations, which she would like to be funded.
Kern also suggested the anti-bullying act funding be decreased. Kern said Brainerd has an adequate anti-bullying program, which many schools do as well.
Next, each representative got a few minutes to talk.
Gazelka agreed with Kern about the anti-bullying act, noting that he was one of the driving forces in delaying the act because of the extra cost to school districts.
Gazelka added he thought all schools in his district already have an anti-bullying policy in place.
Radinovich said he was also concerned about special education funding coming down from the federal government. The federal government promised a 40 percent payback, but has only given 17 percent, he said. That leaves a burden on the state and individual districts.
Ruud asked school officials to give specifics moving forward in what unfunded mandates are the hardest to pay for. Then they can bring that information to the governor, she said.
Ward said unfunded mandates were “always on the plate at the capitol.”
He continued, “A couple of years ago, we eliminated a lot of the special education mandates, but it looks like it wasn’t enough.”