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Bill would give money to sharing districts

ST. PAUL - Small, rural school districts are hurting for money and not very attractive to potential superintendents, a Minnesota Senate committee heard Thursday.

Often the schools don't want to share a superintendent with a nearby district, fearing loss of autonomy. But Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, wants the state to pay $30,000 annually to any district willing to share.

A superintendent who splits his time between Canby and Hendricks said sharing makes sense.

"Fiscally, it is the right to do to preserve programs for children," Loren Hacker told the Senate education finance committee.

Twenty-four districts now share superintendents, and if Kubly's bill would pass, another dozen are expected to by 2011.

Committee members voted to hold Kubly's proposal over until they decide on a final funding bill in a few weeks.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, could not understand why school districts need the $30,000 under Kubly's bill. Hann said it seems the savings of not paying for a full a superintendent "would be a natural incentive."

Committee Chairman Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said small districts face such bad financial problems that any money helps.

Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, supported the Kubly idea, saying that every incentive is important.

Communities often don't want to share superintendents because the next step could be losing their local schools, Stumpf added. "Small communities feel very independent and know they are forced to get together with neighboring towns where you have traditional rivalries."

Kubly said the $30,000 state payments could help prevent shuttering school buildings in some small, rural districts. South Dakota districts already are closing some of their small schools, Hacker said.

With money tight this legislative session, Kubly said he does not have high hopes of getting his proposal funded. However, Stumpf did indicate he expects some aid to be available to small schools.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.