MSBA Conference Debrief – Post 1

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual Minnesota School Board Association’s (MSBA) Conference.  With the ideas, examples, and insights still fresh in mind, I write this post in-flight to the Performance Excellence Network’s OPEX (Operational Excellence) Business Transformation World Summit in Florida for work.  As a Continuous Improvement Consultant, Transformation Coach, and “Personal Excellence Enthusiast,” I am compelled to learn and share. I find my life’s passion is in helping people and organizations to move from where they are today, to where they want to be in the future. Whether mentoring colleagues and students, coaching athletes, or applying my skills in my workplace and other organizations, I find this is the fuel that energizes me. I also believe that learning kept inside the individual and not shared or utilized is waste. So, over the next couple of weeks, I hope to share about the sessions I attended and how I connected them to my role as a board member and the work ahead of us. Each of the attending board members attended sessions and I’m excited about how we can synthesize our learning to inform our overall planning.

The 2020 MSBA Conference marked my second year of attendance. Last year, I had taken office only about a week earlier and was absorbing all I could, but without much in-depth context of our own district. This year, with our strategic work in mind, a holistic view of our priorities, and frankly a fire hose of 12 months of learning and on-boarding, I was more prepared to take away the benefits of each session. So here we go!

Disclaimer- These are my opinions alone and do not represent that of the School Board. : )

Session Reviews – 1 of 8

Vision 2020 On the Political Horizon with MSBA Directors on Government Relations Denise Dittrich and Kim Lewis

Overview

The Minnesota School Boards Association, like all other groups serving or related to education, takes positions on and advocates for various educational policies. The session provided an overview of expected legislative action affecting school districts and students. The topics ranged across legalization of marijuana, tax court decisions, curriculum mandates, funding, and more.

Insights

Most items were “ever-green” items of funding and local control. I like to say it simply – limit mandates that tell us what to do and teach, and if you pass legislation to mandate something, then pay for it. Unfunded mandates, like those in Special education, reduce our operating funds to serve our students in our core instruction and activities. We current spend $22.8MM of our roughly $280MM General Operating Budget to cover unfunded special education mandates alone (see work session 12/3). Many legislators come up with great ideas on what “all students need to know to graduate.” These are not necessarily poor ideas, but each time the state legislates curriculum or new requirements, it squeezes out the opportunity for us to offer curriculum and opportunities to meet the unique needs of our district’s students and families. Overall, our district is currently funded at $14,086 per student (See board meeting 12/17). I think we need an honest debate on what the “right” number is to educate our students. Second, within that which we do receive, we should constantly keep our eye on the educational return. If each district receives roughly the same amount, are we getting better or worse results with our investment? How does it compare to private or charter school spending and outcomes? Should we change how we fund our priorities to drive different outcomes for our students? The latter is part of the questions we are asking and will answer in our strategic work.

A couple additional items I think all residents should know about. The MSBA is recommending that vacancies for school board positions be allowed to be appointed and held until the next general election date because voter turn out is so poor on off-year elections (single digit votes in some areas of Minnesota).  At the same time, record passage of local funding referendums was celebrated in 2019. I posed the question as to consistency – if we believe we shouldn’t hold off-year elections for board vacancies due to low voter turn-out, shouldn’t the same position hold for levy referendums?  This is a difficult and politically heavy question, but one that should be wrestled with. For example, if we look ahead to our needs, should we levy when we need to (possibly off-year to avoid an extra year of delay) or when most voters are engaged? It has implications for how we plan and our timing to handle key funding and budgeting issues.  A second recommendation that the MSBA is advocating for, is that school boards be allowed to “Renew” voter-approved levies by School Board action instead of going back to the voters.  I find this problematic on many fronts. This would essentially guarantee voter-approved levies persist in perpetuity versus a defined amount of time. I don’t believe this builds community trust and accountability.  These are all issues to continue following at the legislative level.

Next Up – Opening Session: Opportunity through Education John Quinones’ American Dream, John Quinones and the topic of Dual Language Programming.