Column: Quality education keeps businesses interested

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tom Ehrhardt, Guest Column

In the coming weeks along with the local and state political campaigns the Albert Lea area will see yard signs and buttons campaigning for the passage of a school operating levy referendum.

This operating levy will replace the existing one and last for a period of five years.

Albert Lea Schools are a point of pride for the entire community. Our schools continue to write incredible success stories. Our recent graduates are pursing careers in medicine, pharmacy, ministry, engineering, law, finance, teaching, agribusiness, opera performance and other rewarding career fields.

One recent graduate has just been promoted within the admissions and recruiting office at the University of Minnesota. Another is finishing graduate studies in medical anthropology. A 1999 Albert Lea High School graduate is currently a doctoral scientist in cancer research. A 1998 graduate is performing in the Young Artists Program at the San Diego Opera.

Albert Lea school staff is also high achieving. One high school science teacher is continuing his goal to become an educator astronaut. One elementary school principal has won a Fulbright exchange with Finland. Many are officers in their professional and local service organizations.

The district watches its budget dollars. School administrative costs have run the lowest of all Big Nine Conference schools as a percentage of total budget.

District 241 has six building principals and three administrative deans to supervise and evaluate nearly 500 staff members. The national average of administration to staff is 16-to-1. In District 241 the ratio of staff to supervisors is about 50-to-1.

So why do we need another operating levy? Success stories don&8217;t just happen by accident. They happen because of committed teachers and staff overseeing quality programming. The Albert Lea community has always recognized the importance and value of high-caliber educational programs and has excellent facilities to learn in. Potential new businesses and new citizens often look at education first when evaluating moving to new towns.

However, the maintenance of our class sizes, excellent programs in the basics such as reading and math, and important development programs like all-day kindergarten are at risk of being lost in the coming years.

The state of Minnesota has shifted the reliance of funding increasingly to voter-approved operating levies. (Ninety-five percent of Minnesota school districts have operating levies.) These levies must pass to provide the additional operating funds not met by state and federal funding programs. Flat funding from the state of Minnesota has occurred for two years and creates this shortfall. In November, District 241 will seek to revoke its existing operating levy and approve a new one. Passage will allow the district to meet the projected funding shortfall in next year&8217;s budget.

Together Education Achieves More campaigned hard for a successful 2002 referendum. With its passage District 241 created all-day kindergarten, re-established student busing for students within one mile of school, reduced class sizes to more manageable levels, and continued to fund important fine arts and athletic programs essential for an education equal to that of other districts. We have excellent programs in our school and TEAM wants to maintain these programs by passing the 2006 levy referendum. TEAM is asking the community to Keep Tiger Pride and Vote Yes Nov. 7.

TEAM is a concerned group of citizens organized to assist in providing truthful information about the operating levy. The

TEAM steering committee members are Dan Dorman, Terri Wichmann, Vicki Manges, Orlo Willmert, Dave Nolander and me.

You can support the campaign by attending their weekly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday nights at Brookside School. If you wish to support the campaign with a financial contribution, it can be sent to TEAM, 201 Lee Place, Albert Lea, MN 56007. Please call the TEAM hot line

377-5607 with questions.

Tom Ehrhardt is the co-chairman of Together Education Achieves More.