Apr 19, 2019 | By: Shirelle Moore

Bemidji School Board Members & Staff Discuss Funding Issues With Local Legislators

The Bemidji School District is facing a $1.3 million shortfall. Officials have already begun the process of making budget cuts, but both school board members and staff are also addressing the problem by taking their issues to the people who help make the laws.

Board members and staff recently held a town hall meeting to discuss some of their biggest worries with a few local legislators. The transportation cross-subsidy was one of the first topics brought up, and Representative John Persell, District 5A, expressed his understanding of it.

Rep. Persell says, “We’re going to change some regulations, change the formulas, the way they’re set up, obviously inequities, and as it’s been pointed out not every school district is dealing with this issue by any stretch of the imagination, and it just doesn’t make sense for what Bemidji’s going through here.”

Another topic brought up was mental health. The legislators say there is a lot of bipartisan support for more funding. Senator Paul Utke, District 2, says there are some regulations in the works to get more mental health professionals in more places.

Sen. Utke says, “We’re looking to be able to go statewide with where that professional doesn’t have to be on site at every location and it can go everything from mental health to our schools, we can use into our public safety, our jails, courts, trying to tie this all together using the technology tools that we have today.”

The talk about mental health led into the talk on school safety, which the legislators also say have bills in the works that would let the schools decide where best to use school safety funding.

Senator Justin Eichorn, District 5, says, “We had a real robust discussion about school safety last year and I think you guys actually invited us here and allowed the students to interact with us and we were able to have a conversation with the students as well – which is really cool and we appreciated that. What we heard loud and clear is that you guys need money to address that, which we’re working on and then two, some flexibility in rules and laws that we have so that way you can use the money in ways you see fit.”

Towards the end of the town hall, the legislators asked for more possible solutions from the board and staff to address their concerns. They ended with the reassurance that their voices are being heard.

“I hear you and I’m all ears to where we can make the most effective change,” says Rep. Persell.

School board members and staff also addressed other concerns with the legislators, such as the opening of a new charter school, the Labor Day start date, and the special education cross-subsidy.

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