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Seagren outlines governor's education proposals during Bemidji meeting

At right, Bemidji Education Association President Paul Goodwin, who teaches special education and English at Bemidji High School, listens as Minnesota Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren makes a point Monday morning to Bemidji School District members. Seagren has been touring northern Minnesota in support of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's 2009 education budget proposals. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

New K-12 spending, expanding Q Comp to every school district, and making Minnesota the country's leader in teacher preparation and training.

These are some of the proposals Gov. Tim Pawlenty has featured in his 2009 education budget.

On Thursday, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren included Bemidji in a state tour to elaborate on the governor's proposals and answer questions from school district officials.

Seagren's visit to Bemidji was hosted by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce. Those in attendance were Bemidji School District Superintendent Jim Hess; Ann Long Voelkner, School Board member; teachers Bob Vaadeland, Paul Goodwin and Craig Rypkema; District Director of Business Services Chris Leinen; and District Director of Human Resources Jordan Hickman. Melissa Vacek represented the Chamber.

Seagren said one innovation would be to assign students an ID card that would follow them from kindergarten through higher education. The ID would allow researchers to track students, research areas of strength and even note the types of courses they take.

Seagren also reported on a study of education in top performing countries. One difference between these countries and the United States, she said, is high admission standards for those seeking entry into teacher candidate schools.

"So you guys, when you hire that teacher, you don't have to retrain them," she told the group.

The governor also has proposed that every school district and charter school in Minnesota adopt the Q Comp program to reform the teacher salary system to pay teachers according to their performance.

Goodwin, Bemidji Education Association president and Bemidji High School special education and English teacher, said teachers are concerned about Q Comp, partly because it would change the structure they have always been comfortable with to something unknown.

Hess said the district studied Q Comp two years ago, and the BEA rejected the program. He said for Q Comp to be instituted in the district, the School Board, teachers' union and state Department of Education all would have to approve the change.

One of the concerns teachers have, Goodwin said, is the expectation that they would be competing among each other for their salaries.

"There already is competition, so they're worried about more competition," he said.

Seagren said an advantage of Q Comp would be for successful mid-career teachers who go into administration for the pay hike, rather than staying in the classrooms where they are highly effective. The governor and state Legislature initiated the Q Comp program in 2005. As of January, 44 of Minnesota school districts and 28 charter schools have adopted the Q Comp program.

Seagren added that, instead of competition among teachers, Q Comp fosters cooperation and collaboration among teachers, who evaluate and coach each other.

"As a professional, I don't think you should be afraid of that," she said. "It just changes the atmosphere, and for the good."

On the other hand, she said, "If they can't make it, maybe they should find another job."

Hess asked Seagren to help the Bemidji School District on a more concrete issue - the cost of transportation. He said the district must augment the state transportation funding each year by about $500,000 from the general fund. The state funding formula is based on the number students in the district. Consequently, he said, some districts with less geographical area make a profit from the state transportation funding. Bemidji School District buses travel more than a million miles a year over a large area, he said.

Long Voelkner said Bemidji doesn't want to infringe on another district's funding, but just wants the state to address the actual transportation costs.