From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Alejandra Matos, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Burnsville-Eagan-Savage proposes February referendum date

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: October 24, 2014 - 11:40 AM

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district is one step closer to putting a referendum on the ballot, with administrators proposing a Feb. 24 date for residents to vote on a possible tax increase.

There will likely be two questions, one asking for approval of a 20-year building bond for between $63 million and $70 million and another question proposing a $2.5 million-a-year levy for 10 years to pay for technology upgrades.

The exact amount of the bond hasn't been decided yet.

No action has yet been taken by the school board, but a February vote is needed so all of the changes in store -- including a high school addition to accomodate 800 more students, security updates and technology improvements -- can be made by the fall of 2016.

The additional funding would pay for elements of a plan called Vision One91, which will move sixth-graders to the middle school and ninth-graders to high school. The vision also includes more early learning programs, closing the senior campus and consolidating the district's administrative offices into one location.

Board member DeeDee Currier said she was once "enamored" with having K-6 elementary schools -- the traditional arrangement in the district --- but she now supports the new grade configurations.

"The future is in our hands right now, and we need to give this opportunity to our community," she said.

Both questions together would cost the owner of an average, $200,000 home less than $180 a year, officials estimated.

The district's last bond referendum was in the late 1990s and resulted in the construction of Harriet Bishop Elementary in Savage.

Board member Jim Schmid said things will be moving quickly between now and February, "so hold on and get ready."

The board will vote on placing two questions on the ballot on Nov. 13.

St. Paul tax situation has board member on alert

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: October 23, 2014 - 5:52 PM

Property taxes are poised to rise in St. Paul in 2015, and for many homeowners, the bite could be significant.

So, the school board asked district administrators recently for a report on what services could look like if the district's tax levy were flat, as opposed to the 1 percent increase proposed in September.

That report was presented to board members this week, and it showed the district hiring fewer new teachers, librarians and nurses, and potentially pulling back on some elementary school repairs -- all to help the average homeowner save $8.86 compared with what he or she would see under a 1 percent levy hike proposal.

Board Member Jean O'Connell, who's professed a desire to keep the levy flat, then was put on the spot by colleague John Brodrick, who asked her if she'd seen enough to conclude: "We can't go to 0 (percent)."

No, O'Connell replied, she had seen projections of total tax bills at a recent meeting of school district, city and Ramsey County officials, and will withhold judgment on the district's levy until property owners get a look at the potential damage in Truth in Taxation statements being mailed next month.

"(Some) people are going to be hit hard," she said. "I just think we need to have a lot broader conversation."

St. Paul homeowners can expect to see their statements about Nov. 17.

Students, community members take a stand against bullying as part of Unity Day

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: October 22, 2014 - 2:43 PM

Staff at Gillette's Children Hospital get in the Unity Day spiritIf it seems like you're seeing orange everywhere you go today, there's a reason: Unity Day

Started just three years ago by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, Unity Day has become a national movement in which everyone is encouraged to wear orange and support local anti-bullying efforts.

And it's not just students. Expect to see more orange if you're driving over the I-35W bridge tonight. The I-35W bridge will again be lit orange at sunset in observance of Unity Day.

“Unity Day is a great time to send an orange message of solidarity against bullying,” said Paula Goldberg, executive director of the Bloomington-based PACER Center. “We encourage everyone to come together in schools, communities, and online to unite against bullying. When we stand together, no one has to stand alone.”

Schools across Minnesota are participating in Unity Day as well as other activities held in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention month which is observed in October.

"Bullying negatively interferes with a student's ability to receive an education," said Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. "It has no place in a learning environment dedicated to bringing out the best in all our students."

This year, Unity Day has special meaning since it's the first one observed since Minnesota lawmakers passed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.

The new law replaces one that - at just 37 words - was considered the weakest in the nation. Minnesota became the focal point of the national conversation about bullying after several students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District committed suicide.

Minneapolis schools suspended student 12 times in one year

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: October 15, 2014 - 3:44 PM

The Minneapolis school district was ordered to provide compensatory education to a special needs student after district educators suspended the students 12 times in one school year, according to court documents.

The 15-year-old student, identified as Eric in court documents filed Wednesday, is a black student that was labeled as having an emotional or behavioral disorder (also known as EBD).

In 9th grade, Eric was placed into the district's Harrison Education Center, which according to his attorneys is a locked and segregated education program for student with EBD.

The suspensions took place between September 2013 and February 2014, sometimes days apart.

On Sept. 24, Eric was suspended for just over a day for "disruptive behavior/insubordination." Two days later he was suspended again for "disruptive behavior/ threatened life of staff." The reasons for his other suspensions included

His mother, Erica, filed a complaint in May with the Minnesota Department of Education protesting the suspensions and requesting a change in the education the district was offering Eric.

An administrative law judge agreed, saying the district caused Eric a loss of educational benefit.

"The School District unilaterally changed Student's placement through a pattern of suspensions and exclusions that totaled more than ten school days in one school year," said Administrative Law Judge Steve Mihalchick.

According to his attorneys, Eric's suspensions violated his rights as a disabled student under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

A lawsuit in federal court filed by Erica's attorney seeks to make the district pay for over $50,000 in legal fees.

In August, the Star Tribune reported that suspensions jumped dramatically for Minneapolis public schoolchildren in kindergarten to fourth grade last year, even as school officials faced mounting criticism over inconsistency in doling out punishment.

The Minneapolis School District is facing intense scrutiny from the federal government over its suspension practices, particularly for sending minority children home at dramatically higher rates than white children.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson then announced she was banning suspension the district's prekindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students.

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