The Anoka-Hennepin School District wants the legislature to address staffing shortages and increase funding for special education and mental health during the next legislative session, based on the district’s proposed legislative priorities for 2022.
The 2022 session, which begins on January 31, is the second session of the biennium, which means Parliament will focus primarily on policy rather than funding.
âThis certainly doesn’t mean that there may not be additional funding, especially as the outlook looks relatively positive for the future,â said Al Ickler, executive director of community and government relations.
Ickler proposed the legislative priorities for 2022 to the school board on November 22.
One of the priorities for the next year is to stabilize the funding of the district.
Part of this is to ensure âfairnessâ for taxpayers regarding the current referendum. By sharing the cost between the local taxpayer and the state, ideally, local taxpayers would pay a little less, while the state would pay more, “which seems very fair,” Ickler said.
When Anoka-Hennepin levies a particular amount, it usually costs individuals more than a similar levy would cost taxpayers in other districts, Superintendent David Law said.
âSo the same levy costs our taxpayers more,â Law said.
This is because the district is considered “poor in real estate,” said board member Bill Harvey, which means there aren’t many large industries or companies in the area that bear a large part of the tax burden.
âSo our taxpayers and their homes are what bear the majority of the funding burden,â Harvey said. âSo because of that, there is a disparity there, other communities get a lot more for their money. Their dollar goes much further. We therefore asked the legislature to continue to provide equalization every time it gives us a mandate, so that some of the other districts are on an equal footing with us, and thus our taxpayers are respected.
Another part of stabilizing the district’s funding is to increase funds for its English language learning and special education programs so that Anoka-Hennepin can reduce cross-subsidization for these programs, Ickler said. Right now, the district gets funding for these programs from the general fund, he said.
Harvey expressed frustration with state-mandated programs without providing the funding necessary for the programs to be successful.
âIt’s not that we want to neglect our amazing special education students, our teachers, our families,â Harvey said. “We want to continue to do a great job, but please live up to your [the stateâs] obligation to finance it appropriately.
Another priority is to increase funding for the Safe Schools Tax, as well as state assistance, to meet mental health needs across the district.
Address the staff shortage
The district has recently struggled to hire staff, including paraprofessionals, nutrition staff, daycare educators and other support staff, Ickler said.
To help tackle the labor shortage in the district, Anoka-Hennepin wants the state to contribute funding to make the positions more attractive to potential candidates, Ickler said.
Another priority is to find creative ways to increase the number of certified teachers to tackle staff shortages, whether it is being flexible towards the multi-level licensing process or removing some barriers to reduce the shortage of substitute teachers.
The district increased the salary of substitute teachers in November to hopefully attract more applicants.
As of early November, the district had around 250 substitute teachers, about 100 less than normal, Sarah Kriewell, director of the employee services department, told ABC Newspapers.
The district has also seen a “slight decline” in the number of substitutes in recent years statewide, Kriewell said.
âA large part of our replacement pool has traditionally been Anoka-Hennepin retirees, and they have been a huge and very important part of our replacement teacher pool,â said Kriewell. “I think there are a lot of reasons people don’t work these daysâ¦ but retired teachers may have concerns about being immunocompromised, or they’re part of a group. of age who might have more severe symptoms [due to COVID-19] or other underlying health problems.
Schools have found a variety of temporary solutions, including principals and vice-principals stepping up to take charge of classes as needed. Sometimes teachers who are assigned to non-classroom positions have also resumed classes, Kriewell said.
The 2021 legislative session resulted in a 2.45% increase in the state’s general education formula this year and 2% next year.
“[Itâs] certainly useful, definitely necessary in our system, but not historically high, âIckler said.
The state has also funded grant programs designed to increase the number of teachers of color across the state, he said.