Thursday, January 8, 2009

Governor Pawlenty - How out of touch can you be?

I'm trying to mince my words here and not throw stones, but good grief... does that guy sound out of touch or what! Take a look at the following story, out of the West Central Tribune newspaper at how shockingly out of touch our governor is. Did he ever leave the Governor's mansion last year, other than going to campaign for John McCain? Rural school districts have been utilizing coops and other means of downsizing and sharing and cutting their budgets, dating back to the early 1980s. Even this son of a dairy farmer, who can sometimes be accused of living a sheltered life, knows that much. Governor Pawlenty, with all due respect, your lack of attention to what is going on in rural Minnesota is embarrassing.

Pawlenty wants sharing: Rural districts already one step ahead
By Carolyn Lange and Linda Vanderwerf, West Central Tribune
Published Thursday, January 08, 2009

WILLMAR — Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to cut education expenses by requiring school districts to “pool their purchasing power” to obtain goods and services through state-approved common vendors makes sense to area school superintendents.

After all, they’ve been doing it for years.

Out of necessity, area schools have cut costs by utilizing the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative to purchase supplies, such as paper, and services such as accounting or payroll.

This year the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District began purchasing natural gas through the cooperative.

“We’re doing a lot of things already that Gov. Pawlenty is talking about,” said Paul Carlson, superintendent at New London-Spicer Schools.

Pawlenty’s proposal would not negate or replace the arrangements school districts already have with service cooperatives, said Alex Carey, Pawlenty’s press secretary for Greater Minnesota.

The existing cooperatives would serve as “eligible vendors” under Pawlenty’s plan, Carey said.

Pawlenty’s proposal may be more geared toward metro districts that haven’t traditionally used cooperative purchasing. “Not every school district starts at the same spot in terms of efficiencies,” Carlson said.

Most rural schools have also consolidated districts and greatly reduced administrators in the last decade to cut costs.

“We’re always looking at ways to save money and work together,” said Renville County West Superintendent Lance Bagstad. “In rural Minnesota, I feel school districts have become very creative.”

High school staff members from RCW have attended school safety training with staff from BOLD schools. RCW and MACCRAY cooperate on an alternative high school program.

“I think group purchasing has benefited our district,” Bagstad said.

Climbing out of statutory operating debt a few years ago made RCW conservative in its spending, Bagstad said.

“If it’s a want, it can probably wait; we spend money on needs,” he said. “We have a six million dollar budget, but we count pennies.”

The Willmar School District uses cooperative purchasing when it makes sense, but the larger district can sometimes get a better price on its own, said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard.

“We save a ton of money” with cooperative purchasing for Willmar’s school meals program, he said.

Roger Reuckert, ACGC’s part-time superintendent, questions how much more can be cut without hurting student achievement.

If the legislators want to save schools money, Reuckert said they should consider ways to loosen up or remove unfunded mandates.

Districts that use the mandated Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, as well as the optional Northwest Education Assessments, may have to stop giving the optional test to save money, Reuckert said.

Carlson said the state could consider eliminating the mandated test, which costs millions to administer and does not provide valuable individual student achievement information like the Northwest Education Assessment.

“In times of economic crisis that we’re in right now, everyone needs to think about efficiencies,” Carlson said.

Kjergaard said Pawlenty’s proposal “makes it sound like school districts aren’t trying to get the best deal,” but that’s not the case.

“Most of us are really cheap,” he said. “We’re going to get the best deal we can get. … We’re Minnesota Cheap.”

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