In its March 5 meeting, the Forest Lake Area School Board supported a “resolution pertaining to school board local control” by a unanimous vote.
The Minnesota School Boards Association asked school boards around the state to pass the resolution to help strengthen its efforts in lobbying the state government. More than 60 Minnesota school boards had already passed the resolution when the Forest Lake board took its vote, though a few have declined to do so, including the Morris Area board last month.
“[The resolution] calls on the Legislature to be careful not to set policies or statutes that include unfunded mandates or over-burdensome regulations, and to allow decisions to be made at the local level,” Superintendent Steve Massey said.
The resolution makes reference to “more than 30 bills to restrict local decision-making” that have been introduced at the Capitol during the 2019-20 legislative session. The language of the resolution notes that school board members are elected, just like legislators, and that school board policies are enacted locally after a legal and open process, similar to the action of the state Legislature. It further states, in part, that “locally elected school boards are positioned best to represent their students, staff, parents and community members and address local needs and challenges” and that whereas “local control in Minnesota has yielded statewide benefits” including higher-than-average ACT scores compared with other states, “one-size-fits-all mandates stifle innovation and creativity, and consume staff time and resources.”
The language approved by the board concludes, “therefore, be it resolved that [the board] supports local decision-making authority and opposes legislation that restricts the ability for locally elected school boards to respond to the needs of their districts, students and communities.”
The MSBA has expressed concern over school boards potentially losing powers such as the ability to set a levy.
“Nothing is more important, under a resolution like this, than for school boards to have the same levy authority that cities and counties do,” Member Rob Raphael said.
Updated policies and personnel
A new policy was approved by the board regarding employee’s political activities. While employees are free to take part in political activities outside of school hours, they must not do so while acting in the capacity of a district employee, and they must not use their official authority to compel any student or other person to take part in a political activity.
“I think this will be an important policy in the coming year, that makes sure [school] is an educational arena and not a political one,” Member Kate Luthner said. “A child should not be able to guess what their teacher’s affiliation is based on their classroom.”
A revised policy on school fees guarantees that “the acquisition of an education ... shall not be dependent on the ability of the child or his parents to pay school fees. No pupil’s rights or privileges, including the receipt of grades or diploma, may be denied or abridged for nonpayment of fees.” The policy gives the district the right to waive a fee if a student or their parent is unable to pay it.
Former director of business services Larry Martini, who had retired at the end of January, was asked by the administration to return to that role on a two-year contract for services agreement effective through June 30, 2020, during which time the administration would work with Martini to establish of timeline and process for succession of the next full-time director of business services. Martini agreed to this arrangement, and the school board approved.
“I have been really impressed with [Martini] and the work he’s done,” Member Alex Keto said. “I spent a lot of years in business and I think he could have outdone most of the financial managers I knew.”