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Education bill not a win for schools

While most of the attention has focused on the passage of an education bill that delays a majority of funding to school districts, education leaders are bracing for other impacts.

One portion of the bill puts into a place a method of measuring teachers' success, with 35 percent of the evaluation rooted in student achievement. The new mode of accountability isn't scheduled to go into effect until July of 2013, but Perham-Dent Superintendent Mitch Anderson said it's an issue that administrators will begin to look at.

"That's what a lot of people are doing this week, looking through all of this to see how it pertains to them and their district," he said.

As far as the expectations go, Anderson sees merit in the idea, but wonders how exactly the state will measure student success. With classes ranging from non-core subjects like music and physical education, compared to more traditional math and reading courses, where standardized tests are already in place, it could be tricky to come up with a blanket system of measurement.

"I think that the intent is right, but I fear that a lot of times, these policies or bills that are passed are decided on by people that aren't in education or in the classroom," he said.

Currently in place are National Norms of Assessments standards, which a lot of districts use to compare against. Anderson suspects that might be an option, along with No Child Left Behind MCA-II tests, which measure only math and reading.

"It will probably come down to some cooperation with the district and the union," he said.

The way union negotiations work was also added in the bill. While the alteration of tenure to a five-year renewal schedule didn't make it in, the penalties for districts and unions not reaching agreements by January 15 were repealed.

Previously, if a district and a union did not settle negotiations by the set date, the district would lose $25 for each student in the district for one year - a fee that would be paid to the state.

"I think it was put into place just to make sure that unions and schools districts were negotiating in good faith," Anderson said. "In the end, there isn't any money to go around."

Also included in the bill are literacy incentives, which would award districts aid based on third grade reading proficiency and fourth grade reading growth, a measure that would go into place July of 2013.

According to the Minnesota School Boards Association, aid would be awarded with $85 times the third grade proficiency index and $85 times the percentage of fourth grade students who make medium or high growth on reading No Child Left Behind tests.

While Anderson said the specifics are still being worked out, he said it could be a good incentive for the district, known for high elementary reading scores.

The school board would also have the option, under the new bill, to hold electronic school board meetings, with video and audio links for the public. Anderson said that won't be an issue for Perham-Dent, as it doesn't struggle to get board members together. He said it's likely an option that will benefit districts that are more spread out.

Schools across the state did technically see an increase of $50 per student, but Anderson said that the delay of funding - a shift that puts off 40 percent of districts' aid for one year - will eat up interest costs from borrowing. That, he said, is the one of the defining measures of the bill.

"I don't think this bill is a win, but it's not a complete loss," he said. "We're continually being asked to raise the bar and, at the same time, with less than we had the year before."