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Northern Minnesota higher-ed campuses form alliance

News From Greater Minnesota

About 20 campuses in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have formed an alliance across northern Minnesota. They want to compete less and collaborate more. “We all know that it can’t be any longer about our institutions. It has to be about our regional economies and how to better serve our students,” MSU-Moorhead President Edna Szymanski told Amy Dalrymple of the Fargo Forum. In fact, some two-year colleges want to bring four-year degrees to their communities. “A number of people in our rural areas are hungry for higher-ed opportunities, but they can’t dislocate from their jobs or families to pursue that,” said Anne Temte, president of Northland Community and Technical College. The colleges are also looking to collaborate on some administrative tasks such as payroll. The MnSCU universities in Moorhead and Bemidji are part of the alliance, as is Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall because it serves a rural area with similar needs, Szymanski said. Community colleges in International Falls, Thief River Falls, East Grand Forks, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Virginia, Eveleth, Ely, Duluth, Cloquet, Detroit Lakes, Wadena, Staples, Brainerd, Fergus Falls and Alexandria are involved.

The Bemidji School District has long gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to how much the state provides it to bus students to school. Anne Williams of the Bemidji Pioneer interviewed Chris Leinen, Bemidji’s director of business services. The bottom line: In 2009-10 the district received roughly $2.3 million in transportation revenue, but it cost $2.8 million to transport students, putting the district roughly $575,000 in the red. This comes out of the district’s general budget, which is money it couldn’t use to buy books or lower class sizes. Because the state determines transportation money by the number of students in the district, small districts with lots of students (read: metro districts) get more money than they use. The sparcity formula used to help large districts with very few students (read: northern Minnesota districts) often results in more money than they need. The coalition of metro and very rural districts leads those in the middle, such as Bemidji, to lose money every year. “We’ve been harping on this for a long time,” Leinen said. (Full disclosure: In 2010, I wrote a report on this topic for Minnesota 2020. I caught some flak from lobbyists for metro-area schools for not fully accounting for integration transportation aid, but it didn’t change the report’s conclusion that the funding system heavily favors some districts over others). The issue used to be on the front burner, but is now subsumed in the overall talk of K-12 education funding reform. That doesn’t satisfy Greg Liedl, the school district’s director of transportation. “I dip into the general fund a half a million bucks that I take out of the classroom to make up the difference in my budget to pay for the drivers and the fuel to do what we do,” he said. “The formula is skewed.”

Duluth schools Superintendent I.V. Foster resigned last Friday after he reached an agreement with the district over his lack of a complete Minnesota school superintendent’s license. Jana Hollingsworth of the Duluth News Tribune reports the school board voted 5-2 to accept his resignation. Foster was placed on paid administrative leave in December when state records showed he had been working since July 1 without a Minnesota superintendent’s license. Having a valid superintendent’s license is required by law. His license is valid in Illinois, but does not carry over to Minnesota. In a statement, the board said “Dr. Foster has explained that his delay was based on a misunderstanding regarding the application procedure. While the board was anticipating Dr. Foster’s continued service to the district, nonetheless, given the public controversy … Dr. Foster has offered his resignation.” Foster himself had little to add: “There are a lot of challenges the school district is facing. It’s better to move forward, and in a very positive way … it’s in the best interest of the students.” Foster will receive his salary through March and benefits, including full health-insurance coverage, through June. Board members Mary Cameron voted against the resolution, saying she “had a problem with the process,” but wouldn’t elaborate. “He’s the first qualified African-American for this position,” she said. “It was positive for the broader community and for our students of color in the buildings.” She also said Foster had been the most qualified of the superintendent candidates interviewed last spring.

Renee Richardson of the Brainerd Dispatch polled area hospitals and came up with the most popular baby names of 2011. At Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, the top boys' names were Mason, Lucas, Samuel, Brayden, Evan, Henry and Liam. The top girls' names were Sophia, Claire, Nevaeh and Arianna. At Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin, the top names for girls were Linzy, Montana, Paige, Lexi and Elayna. For boys, they were Dekker, Carter, Chase, Bret and Noah. In 2010, the Social Security Administration listed the top names for boys: Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Jayden, William, Alexander, Noah, Daniel, Aiden and Anthony. Top girls' names that year were Isabella, Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Emily, Abigail, Madison, Chloe and Mia. The SSA hasn’t released its top names for 2011 yet.

The pheasant population was hit hard by last year’s snowy winter and wet spring, so the dry, warm winter this year has pheasant fanciers hopeful, writes Matt Peterson of the Austin Daily Herald. The National Weather Service says patterns over the Pacific Ocean suggest dry weather throughout the winter and spring. A dry, warm nesting season is just what pheasants need for a successful hatch. When marshy areas get too wet and cold, like last year, poor hatches are the result, said Jeanine Vorland, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager.

Food shelfs (shelves?) are feeling the peanut-butter pinch. A crummy peanut harvest has pumped up prices and food shelves (shelfs?) are having to pay more for the protein staple, reports Jean Lundquist in the Mankato Free Press. “We used to be able to buy peanut butter for $1.19 for a 16-ounce jar,” said Gene Erickson, director of Maple River Area Fishes and Loaves Food Shelf. “Now, we’re in the $1.80 range.” Erickson said that when the food shelf started more than a year ago, the plan was to serve 40 to 50 families throughout the Mapleton, Minnesota Lake, Amboy and Beauford areas. “We were relatively surprised when we had 65 families, or 230 individuals,” come for food, he said. Families get a 20-pound box of food and “peanut butter is a staple in that box,” he said. At the ECHO Food Shelf in Mankato, manager Daisy DeLeon said there’s been some talk of limiting the amount of peanut butter per family, but no action. Because nearly half the population ECHO serves is kids, peanut butter is a popular item. In two weeks, the food shelf distributed 1,300 jars of peanut butter.

John Fitzgerald is a longtime journalist and Minnesotan. He lives in Buffalo.

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Comments (1)

Regarding Duluth's IV Foster resignation indirectly and other questionable considerations...

One could say,the Duluth School Board has had its own issues and some local voices do question...like closed door meetings on public policy; legal or illegal, acceptable or unacceptable? Unless they are the Pentagon, there could be a problem or problems here that need to be explored for sake of the taxpayers; for the sake of fair play?

I would hope an investigative process would include redefining what are the legitimate powers and actions of any school board...should they not be part and parcel of this story that has essentially, no acceptable closure?

I repeat, are there not too many questions that should be explored as part of the board's actions also?...questions that demand extensively, more coverage to attain some completeness; going beyond the tight circle of simple,local news gathering?

Would not in-depth investigation be the appropriate and consistent follow-through?

Anyone in the profession want to take it on?