Schools face shutdown hassles

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2011 - 11:50 PM

Summer testing dates and teacher licensing are jeopardized, and some schools had to dip into reserves.

The state government shutdown is creating a swarm of minor problems for Minnesota schools.

Summer make-up dates for tests required for graduation might be postponed. Approval for funding grants has been held up, and licenses needed to get some teachers into the classroom are on hold. And the Minnesota Department of Education -- used by districts as a resource for financial, health and safety, and other school data -- is largely closed.

Thanks to a judge's ruling, most state funding for schools will continue, so the bulk of services, including summer school programs, will go on as usual. Furthermore, school districts had already been making contingency plans to maintain the status quo, either by using reserves or borrowing.

In Brooklyn Center, for instance, "We had planned on not having any money come in at all," said superintendent Keith Lester. So the district had already borrowed enough money to get through the upcoming school year.

But should the shutdown continue much longer, students planning to retake their state Graduation-Required Assessment for Diploma (GRAD) tests in the coming days may have to wait until a later date. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district, that affects an estimated 500 students who had planned to re-test on Tuesday, Wednesday or July 19. Those testing dates will be canceled "unless the shutdown ends," said district spokeswoman Mary Olson.

Before the shutdown, the district made special provisions for those seniors who wanted to retake the tests in order to graduate; a special testing day was scheduled for June 30, the day before the shutdown began, Olson said. Minnesota students must pass state writing and reading tests in order to get their diplomas.

"I've been told that if these [July] dates don't work, then the next opportunity [for testing] would not be until October," Olson said.

Something else that might be delayed is the public release of schools that have not met their federal testing goals

For most districts, renewal of teacher licenses won't be a big problem, because most teachers either don't need to renew them or made sure to take action to do so before the shutdown. Still, there could be some staffing concerns.

"We can't verify license renewals for current employees and we can't verify licenses for new teachers and teachers who have taught elsewhere but who are applying for positions with Anoka-Hennepin," Sarah Kriewall , district director of employee services, said in an e-mail. "We have approximately 30 current teachers that need to renew prior to the start of the 2011-2012 school year. If we can't verify that they have an active teaching license, we will not allow them in the classroom."

"From what we've seen so far, my concern is more about licensure and those sorts of things," Brooklyn Center's Lester said. "We have people we hire who are waiting for licenses, or if we need a variance [to teach a different subject or at a different grade level] for somebody, that's a problem. We've tried to do as much of this stuff as we can ahead of time."

In Brooklyn Center, school district officials applied for a federal grant that will involve the hiring of licensed resources teachers, who help train teachers. But because the Department of Education is closed, there's no one to tell the district whether they got the grant. That creates a hiring dilemma for the district, Lester said. Without word one way or another, the district would opt not to hire the additional personnel, he said. Plus, Lester said, the district had to make sure it got state approval before July 1 on a $1.2 million bond issue it needs to do some school maintenance work.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547

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