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New Minnesota education commissioner comes to Perham

Dr. Brenda Cassellius, new state education commissioner, speaks with students from New York Mills on Jan. 18. Photo by Ashley Bergen.

Students from across lakes country spoke out loud and clear that funding for rural school districts should be priority for the state of Minnesota.

Students from Perham, New York Mills, Detroit Lakes, Frazee and Pelican Rapids met with Dr. Brenda Cassellius, new state education commissioner to discuss the issue on Jan. 18.

Cassellius, who was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton on Dec. 31, is visiting school districts across Minnesota and made her first stop in Perham.

A need for funding in rural school districts was the topic of much of the conversation between the commissioner and students.

"I think one of the big questions is funding," one Perham student said. "Every school district has it on their mind. It seems like schools in the Cities get more funding but schools out in the sticks are just as important."

Cassellius stressed that the governor is committed to equitable funding across the state. While it can be difficult with funding dependent on enrollment and property tax values, Cassellius said, the governor is looking to change that.

"We want to find ways to make sure the resources where kids need them most are getting there," she said. "It's very high on the governor's priority list. The governor cares very much about education in rural areas and wants to make funding equitable across the state."

Perham students told the commissioner about the attempts at a levy referendum in the district, which failed again this year.

"There's a lot of pride at this school but people aren't passing levies to keep those programs," a student said, referring to various programs and activities cut from the budget.

Cassellius said she sympathized with the struggle and urged the students to get out and talk to neighbors, friends and the public about the issue.

"Make that personal connection and tell your story," she said.

The commissioner is no stranger to the Perham area, having a lake cabin in the area. She also has family in Frazee.

"I have a lot of pride in this lakes area," she said. "I love it, been coming up here for over 10 years, I love coming up here and being part of this community."

The commissioner met later in the day with community and business leaders, followed by a meeting with parents and community members in the evening.