To the Editor:
Although my job title is “custodian” in Wayzata Public Schools, I am also a counselor, a friend and an advocate. Students call me “Mentor Mike,” and many students who are having problems at school talk to me. Because of that, I see firsthand the much discussed achievement gap between students of color and white students every day. To me, it’s not a statistic. It’s real kids who are failing while watching their peers succeed.
I work hard to try to reduce that gap and support these kids, but there are barriers to success. One barrier is the many stress factors from their environment and home life, while another is institutionalized racism in our school system.
There are a few proposals that have been put forward this legislative session that actually address the problems I see.
The “full service community schools” would address the nonacademic barriers by bringing parents and community members to the table to support our kids. It’s a proven model in helping schools beat the odds for students of color and students in poverty.
Another proposal would help people of color become teachers by offsetting some of the costs. This has been a problem in Minnesota, and kids would benefit from seeing people who look like them in front of the classroom.
In Minnesota, we don’t like to talk much about race. But the more the legislature brings in teachers, staff, parents, and community members to address it together, the more they will change.
There are a lot of proposals flying around the Capitol, but if the legislature is serious about reducing the achievement gap, I hope they listen to Mentor Mike and take these seriously.
For Immediate Release – May 5, 2014
Contact: Josh Keller, SEIU, 612-270-2984
School Staff From Greater Minnesota and Metro Join Heated Battle Over Education Budget
Statements come as conference committees begin meeting at Capitol over budget proposal that will create harmful, unnecessary cuts to schools at time of budget surplus
St. Paul, MN – Hundreds of school staff and parents from Greater Minnesota and the Metro area joined together in signing a letter to the education conference committee that was delivered today as legislators began to negotiate between the House and Senate Omnibus Education bills at the Capitol.
The House and Senate proposals would mean cuts to essential programs and would stop any progress made from the investments of the previous legislative session. Real education funding is especially important for Greater Minnesota, as many facilities are in dire need of repair.
School staff and parents from across the state commented on why they believe that the current House and Senate proposals, and the cuts that would come with them, would be harmful for students and families across the state.
“We spent a decade balancing our state’s budget on the backs of our students, and now that our economy is growing, we can finally afford to start re-investing in our children’s education. But the legislature is seriously proposing funding our schools at a level so low that it can only lead to program cuts and layoffs for many districts. This saddens and angers me,” said Lori Smith, Food Service worker, St Cloud. “As a mother and longtime worker in our schools I urge our legislature to fund our children’s schools adequately and equitably – our children are our future.”
“As a parent with four kids in the Elk River school system I remember too many years of tight budgets that led to larger class sizes. With teachers stretched with too many kids in the class room how could they not let kids fall through the cracks,” said Leanne Musjgerd, a parent in Elk River. “Now again our legislators are proposing a budget that leave a big hole in our district’s budget. It sounds to me like kids will have to once again sacrifice opportunities because of the lack of adequate funding. I want to see the legislature fund our schools adequately and equitably across Minnesota whether a metro school or an outstate one. All or children deserve our support. “
“As a custodian in Lakeville School District, I have seen firsthand the repercussions of ten years of budget cuts. Custodians have been cut year after year, there is always a shortage of supplies and work spread far too thin,” said Anna Angeles-Farris, a parent and custodian in the ISD 194 Lakeville school district. “At a minimum, our kids should go to school in clean, healthy and safe facilities. Beyond that, they deserve quality education in the arts and languages, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math.), career services, counselors and other student supports- all of which are the often the first to go when districts make cuts. How can we we get our children and grandchildren career ready if we don’t have the funding?
“I have worked for a great school district for the past 12 years in many different capacities, and have always been proud of our education system in Minnesota. I fear with only a 1% increase, we won’t be able to keep that reputation, said Marie Beck, clerical worker in Wayzata Public Schools. “Already, classes are becoming crowded and the staff is dwindling. When the district is underfunded and can’t keep up with inflationary increases, that will get worse and worse. We are forming the minds of the future- they should be our state’s top priority. If we can’t give them adequate funding now, in a year with a surplus, then when?”
“Kids are our future. As an Academic Behavior Manager/Instructional Assistant working with 12-21 year old kids in the Cambridge – Isanti schools, I love seeing them grow and develop and become unique human beings. But now I’m afraid that we’re about to see cuts to our schools, cuts to staff, cuts to programs. My co-workers and I don’t get rich working in our schools–I work three jobs to make ends meet–but the reward is in seeing our kids succeed,” said Tracey D Tawyea, a para education in Cambridge. “All these cuts will hurt our kids and our educators. Our state is better than that. In a year with a surplus, our elected representatives need to fund our kids K-12 education and pass a budget that at least keeps up with the rate of inflation– our kids deserve it.
The frustration from parents and school staff about comes as a growing statewide coalition, including Principals and School Board Members, has called on elected officials to truly fund education this year.
The St Cloud Board of Education passed a unanimous resolution to support the House Minority proposal, which would include a 2% increase each year, funding for facilities, teacher development and special education. “The House majority budget will inflict serious damage on public schools throughout the state. School districts have endured years of tight budgets, underfunding of special education and below average formula increases,” said Jerry Von Korff, a member of the St. Cloud School Board. “This was understandable as Minnesota was navigating a deep recession, but it is inexplicable right now.”
“A 1/1 increase this biennium would be especially hard on districts in Greater Minnesota, who get less per- pupil than metro districts” said Mark Bezek, the Superintendent of Elk River School District. “Elk River would be facing a $2.5 million budget hole.”
According to a survey conducted by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, with a less than 1% increase, the projected shortfall would result in cuts and staff layoffs.
SEIU Local 284 represents 8700 bus drivers, paraprofessionals, food service workers, early learning employees, clerical staff and custodians throughout the state of Minnesota.
St Paul, MN — School support staff and members of SEIU Local 284 praised the “Excellence in Education” package released today. The goal of the collected bills is to close the achievement gap by increasing support and equity for all school districts.
The package was released by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin), Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury), Sen. Alice Johnson (DFL-Blaine), Sen. Greg Clausen (Apple Valley) and Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina).
SEIU Members issued the following statements:
On Facilities (S75 & S76)
Larry Bodnar, Custodian, ISD 724 Elk River
“When we need parking lots and roofs repaired, or carpets and boilers replaced, it would be nice to have the funding to just do it—instead we have to wait and just hope the voters approve it in the next referendum. We need to make sure all students- no matter where they live- have quality learning facilities.”
Cheryl Hegge, Custodian, ISD332, Mora
“As a custodian, I do everything I can do make the school clean and presentable- but without adequate funding it’s difficult- and the problems get worse as time goes on. A few years ago, when the roof started leaking over the service line in our cafeteria- the staff got inventive. The cafeteria staff moved service into the cafeteria using folding tables. We had a giant pot on top of the ceiling tiles that we dumped out every night when it rained and snowed. The district finally passed a referendum to fix some of these problems, but our students shouldn’t have had to wait to have adequate facilities.”
On Free Breakfast (S344)
Colleen Nocerini, Child Nutrition, ISD197 West St. Paul
“As a School Nutrition specialist, I see kids everyday who come to school hungry. Case studies have shown great improvement in both academic achievement and attendance with all school free breakfast. Making free school breakfast available for the whole state will send the message to schools and parents that we value our kids, and that their health and ability to learn are a priority to all of us.”
In a victory for adjunct faculty across the nation, Hamline University adjuncts in St. Paul have voted overwhemlingly to join part-time faculty at Northeastern University, Georgetown University and thousands of instructors nationwide in a rapidly growing union movement.
The victory marks the first time that adjunct faculty at a private Twin Cities-area university have formed a union in their quest to improve higher education for students and faculty. Hamline adjuncts will join SEIU Local 284 , with 72% of the valid ballots counted voted yes to forming the union.
David Weiss is an adjunct faculty in the Religion department at Hamline and spoke about why the win reflects a victory for the entire Hamline community.
“This is a great day for faculty, students, and the whole Hamline community. It was clear in this campaign that for adjuncts in Minnesota, our time is now. By coming together to address the low pay and lack of benefits and stability for adjunct faculty, we are taking steps to strengthen all of higher education for students and faculty alike. I’m confident that our success today will help empower other workers, including adjunct faculty like ourselves at schools like St. Thomas, to change working and learning conditions in higher education,” he said.
Jennifer Beckham teaches in the English department and spoke about the great opportunity this provides Hamline.
“We sent a letter to Provost Jensen expressing our interest in building a productive relationship that reflects our shared value in making Hamline a great place for faculty and students. Adjuncts have been energized by the support of tenured faculty, students, alumni, and community supporters throughout this process, and we look forward to continuing this important work.”
Minnesota adjuncts are joining a fast-growing union movement, as adjuncts come together to take on this crisis in higher education that has turned what was once a good middle-class profession into a low-wage, no-benefits job without any job security from semester to semester. Now their vision is to take this work a step further – to unite adjunct faculty market wide, and across the country – because this crisis in higher education will not be solved one school at a time.