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 Response Page - Jennings  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
David Jennings Interview of

The Questions:

On a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, please indicate how you rate the following points discussed by Jennings: 

1. (8.2 average response)  Vision. Candidates for governor in 2010 are failing to demonstrate sufficient vision for the future of the state.

2. (8.1 average response)  Budget. It won't be possible to exempt education from budget cuts to balance the budget for the next biennium.

3.  (7.7 average response)  School district size. Some school districts in Minnesota, like Minneapolis, are too large; some, certain rural districts, are too small.

4. (6.4 average response)  Federal funds. Minnesota would be better off it if rejected federal funds for education.

John Branstad  (7.5)  (2.5)  (0)  (2.5)

1.  Vision.  The cynic in me would point to our Governor for the last 8 years and say candidates have learned that a complete lack of vision for the future of our state is by no means a barrier to being elected.

2.  Budget.  Investing in education is one of the wisest, most intelligent uses for state resources and cuts/shifts to this area should be 'last-resort' type cuts. Can education be 100% exempt? Maybe, maybe not. But the cuts will be much, much deeper if additional revenue sources ("tax the rich", expand sales tax, etc.) are not used and I believe Minnesota would be worse off for it. Minnesota's Public School System, along with the vast majority of public school teachers, are top-notch in spite of what certain politicians would lead people to believe. While I agree there is always room for restructuring/reform in our public education system, his "tenure is ... outrageous" boogeyman argument was presented without any evidence or support.

3.  School district size.  Mr. Jennings may be correct that some districts are too large. However, his stance regarding the current size of rural districts completely ignores the huge geographic areas covered by many consolidated school districts. In rural Minnesota, it's not uncommon for kids to get on a bus 1.5 to 2 hours before school starts and not get home until nearly 2 hours after school is out. The mentality and approach of urban / suburban school administrators doesn't translate to rural Minnesota in this case.

4.  Federal funds.  While I'm no fan of the strings attached to federal funding, the current budget realities make refusing these dollars virtually impossible.    

General comments: It seems like it would serve Mr. Jennings well to spend more time in truly rural parts of Minnesota (i.e. more rural than Chaska). His view of LGA being a "nice to have" is short sighted, especially for towns of a few thousand residents that are dependent on a local farm economy (as opposed to a strong manufacturing sector, etc.).

Mary Jane Morrison  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)

John Sievert  (10)  (2.5)  (10)  (10)

1.  Vision.  This is evident by the overall low quality of the candidates and how little they have thought about the problems.  Especially galling is Emmer, who starts thinking about it when he is actually campaigning and said that he was traveling the state to figure out what to do.  That's no vision; it's a 30-day strategy.  Disgusting.

2.  Budget.  We need to cut deeper in other areas.  This is the goose that lays the golden egg. 

4.  Federal funds.  A sensible plan for the feds would be to leave the states with schools in the top third alone, keep a watchful eye on the schools in the middle, and be aggressive about improvement on schools in the bottom third.  "Fairness" isn't the issue, results are.

Debby Frenzel  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)

Robert Freeman  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (2.5)

2.  Budget.  Absent reforms, cuts will be harmful, and increased funding will not change the picture.

Rick Krueger  (5)  (10)  (5)  (2.5)

1.  Vision.  So what's new?  Counter-intuitively, campaigns rarely provide a venue for serious discussion of issues.  Vision gets reduced to virtually meaningless 'bumper sticker' slogans.  Regrettably there is a huge disconnect between campaigns and governance.  Some of the best campaigners are atrocious public policy makers.

2.  Budget.  I chaired the House State Government Finance Committee, and if we were to eliminate all three branches of government and every state agency that would "save" about 5% of the state budget.  Education at all levels amounts to over 50% of the state budget. In addition there are certain areas that are relatively impossible to reduce without aggravating other budget problems.  For example cutting programs that are required for a federal match can have the impact of increasing greater deficits.  From a practical perspective, debt service is another area that is relatively untouchable.  So given how irresponsible we have been paying for services we already have accepted, (this) likely means all areas of the budget need to be on the table in order to get us out of the mess we are in.

3.  School district size.  I am not convinced that it is the size of the district that is the critical factor.  The bigger issue is how best to serve students in districts where the "deck is stacked against them" from the start.  There is evidence that some of the high performance school districts actually make less annual progress with demographically challenged students than their larger (or smaller) counterparts.

4.  Federal funds.  It depends on the specific federal program.  I don't know what percentage federal funds account for on average in Minnesota, but it used to be approximately 3%.  That doesn't seem to be the most important issue to focus on in education budgets than the federal funds.

Tom King  (5)  (10)  (5)  (10)

1.  Vision.  It always comes down to whose vision makes the most sense to us.  The last governor who had or supported a vision for education was, believe it or not, Rudy Perpich. A case might also be made for Wendy Anderson, but he promoted himself to U.S. Senator, so we will never know for sure.

2.  Budget.  Not unless repair to the State Capitol dome finds a cache of bullion hidden somewhere in the walls. The other formerly sacred cow, Health and Human Services, will also find its rations reduced.  Carville was wrong. It's not the economy. It's the expectations of those of us who believe we have a perdurable right to its fruits, no matter what.

3.  School district size.  The size of the districts is not nearly as critical an issue as the disparity in achievement among our learners. Nor is there any evidence that it's even correlated with more effective learning. Classrooms, of course, are another issue altogether.

4.  Federal funds.  Only a short time ago, I would have strongly disagreed with this statement.   Having recently seen what the feds have done with NCLB, RTTT and lately the efforts of Secretary Duncan to put the onus entirely on teacher performance, I now believe our founders were right: education is the purview of the states.

Dave Broden  (10)  (10)  (0)  (7.5)

1.  Vision.  The candidates seem to think in sound-bytes not in vision. Successful governors (most, but not all) have shown a vision and then worked to make it happen. The three (candidates) this year each have some soft vision words on redesign or tax-the-rich etc. but not a meaningful full-scope vision that will lead and shape Minnesota for the future. It is also important to note that often someone else or some group defines a vision and the candidate grasps this vision and uses it--today there is no strong vision package that can be used.

2.  Budget.  Definitely agree particularly if the term “budget cuts” also means change in structure and how objectives are achieved. Adjustment for budget cuts in education may have to be sold as value added tax increases.

3.  School district size.  Size is a bad word. As in business, big businesses work well, small businesses work well, mid size businesses work well. Similarly in government small states work well --large ones have issues but some work well also. Let’s not worry so much about size but about process and outcome. Moving to outcome-based structure and stressing innovation is simply not size-dependent. Let the size roll with the people who are the district—yes, there max be a some critical minimum for some reason but focus on that does not add value.

4.  Federal funds.  Generally agree, but use of federal money, if provided to meet reasonable value-added objectives and not connected with a long checklist of federal must-do’s to be compliant, then may make some sense. If the federal government causes the state to lower or shift superior operations or processes then the federal money is simply the wrong color.

Dennis L. Johnson  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)

General comment:  Why was there no discussion at all about the teacher's unions, and their role in both education costs and rigidities in the system?

W.D. (Bill) Hamm  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)

1.  Vision.  Not the spark of a new idea among the leading three choices.

2.  Budget.  This is going to be like pulling teeth without Novocain because it means taming the teachers’ unions control over us all.

3.  School district size.  SD consolidation went well beyond what was best for kids and created institutions rather than schools. In the process we lost local control and decisionmaking.

4.  Federal funds.  While I agree with his statements as far as they went, they also lack any understanding of what we lost.

Peter Hennessey  (5)  (10)  (10)  (10)

1.  Vision.  Sorry to be doing a Clinton, but it really depends on how you define "vision" and what you are willing to accept as evidence of "vision." Is it "vision" if you promote progressive policies even though they are disastrous failures, but it is evidence of 'lack of vision" if you propose going back to standards that worked very well before the progressive "reforms"?

2.  Budget.  Not just the next biennium but all the biennium to come. You have to find a way to maximize the dollars going into the classroom, and forcefully minimize the administrative overhead -- non-teaching staff, pensions, the whole works. Pay the teachers, buy the supplies, eliminate non-teaching expenses, fire the bureaucrats.    I went to different schools in three States. As I recall, even the deans of boys and girls had at least one classroom teaching assignment. The football and baseball coaches were also classroom teachers. The PE teacher also taught history. The principal in one school was also a vice mayor. School administrative staff consisted of a couple of secretaries in the front office. And they still got the job done, even in a working class urban neighborhood. We did not have to leave textbooks in the classroom, to share with the next class, as they do in San Francisco. Classroom time was not spent on doing homework, because obviously you could not take your books home. And there were no federal mandates, so there was no army of administrative staff, bigger than the teaching staff that is the norm today, to explain, enforce and document compliance.

3.  School district size.  If they are too big, why don't you cut them down to size? People can relate to people, but they are inhibited and disgusted by bloated bureaucracies. Opt for local control, accessible to the parents.

4.  Federal funds.  With funds come mandates, whether they make sense or not.   Case history: State College, Pennsylvania 16801, home of The Pennsylvania State University. Practically everybody employed at PSU. Small enough, rich enough, enlightened enough, good enough balance between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, to have good local government and adequate public support. So in the mid-1960's the feds decided to "help" schools with funds they can't raise locally. Great! But within one year came the first of a long series of strings attached: local schools must offer school lunch... Everybody was baffled and outraged. The town is small enough for every kid to walk home for lunch, or they brown-bag it, and anyway no more than a dozen kids out of a few thousand would benefit. Too bad. You can't return the money. The town had to raise several times the federal funds they received to retrofit all the schools with cafeterias and kitchens, which then stayed unused or underused for years.  The point is, let the locals control their schools.  Far-away bureaucrats do not know better.

Jack Evert  (2.5)  (0)  (5)  (2.5)

1.  Vision.  We only have three choices.  I think Horner is doing the best job of the three.

2.  Budget.  Here is one place where I agree with the "starve the beast" mentality.  The teachers' unions are too powerful and exert a negative influence on the quality of education in MN.  And pensions must be on the block as part of all this (as Horner has advocated).

4.  Federal funds.  I think the Obama administration has shown some useful approaches in their revisions of NCLB.  The State could benefit from this and then take the money to boot.

Bob White  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (2.5)

Alan Miller  (8)  (2)  (8)  (0)

It depends which candidate you listen to with regard to a vision for the future.  The refusal of Federal funding and options, as well as health care, by the current Administration, has been catastrophic.

Kevin Edberg  (6)  (7)  (8)  (8)

Outstanding session, and on so many more points than simply Mr.Jennings’ insights on education. The thoughts from this session deserve wider testing with other visitors.

Lynn Gitelis  (10)  (10)  (10)  (0)

I think we would be better off if we disregarded everything we currently have in place and began all over again. We know that if we landed on this planet for the first time today, we would not create the mishmash of programs and systems that we have now. The problem with massive re-engineering is that it takes a lot money and unchanging leadership for around 10 years, and in a political system, neither is likely to be present.  I wonder sometimes if the Itasca group or some group like them should be "deputized" to run a re-engineering effort. The political system is not likely to be able to muster the ability to challenge the status quo nor to sustain the effort in the face of the inevitable storm of protests.

Phil Herwig  (10)  (10)  (9)  (10)

I would enjoy sending a comment. However, given the current crop of candidates we have for governor, Minnesota is in for four long years of zero leadership!

Clarence Shallbetter  (8)  (8)  (10)  (8)

Ray Cox  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

School funding cannot be spared in this time of economic turmoil, as unpleasant as that may be. Labor agreements are going to have to be modified substantially. We need to be instituting full-year schooling with school employees working 52 weeks in some form of 7-9 weeks on for students, 1-2 weeks off. We cannot continue to model our school year on an agrarian economy.  I agree that the federal government has no business in state education and we should reject their funds. Minnesota will be a stronger state by doing that.  The key to school performance is centered on family life and how parents take care of and raise their children. If we cannot improve that we will never substantially improve school achievement.  Lastly, the 'tax the rich' plans will not work. The rich have the means and methods available to eliminate many taxes, including relocating a residence. The poor do not have these options. What we need is fair taxes and well run governments where taxpayers do not object to paying taxes and feel they are getting good value from the government. We are a long way from that position right now.

Dave Christianson  (8)  (10)  (7)  (8)

Mr. Jennings has particularly good observations about localized revenues and spending, with accountability, including school districts. MN was perfectly able to maintain a world-class education system before state aid and especially without federal unfunded mandates. Our tax code needs both to be progressive in rate schedules, and incent growth.

Al Quie  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Work on cutting the size of school districts. The few school districts that might be "too small" are not hurting us. Cutting size is more difficult than consolidating. We have already less than 22% as many districts as we once had. Dave made excellent comments. I especially agree that it would be better if we did not take federal funds for education except for research. It would be better if we did not have the LGA program or the state limiting local taxes.

Bright Dornblaser  (10)  (5)  (8)  (1)

Bert Press  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Paul and Ruth Hauge  (8)  (7)  (9)  (5)

Jerry Fruin  (10)  (10)  (8)  (5)

Rick Bishop  (7)  (5)  (7)  (1)

Carolyn Ring  (10)  (9)  (8)  (4)

Leadership is badly needed in the Governor's chair, and so far, none of the candidates has shown that capability.  We need a well thought out plan for the future of Minnesota based on outcomes and how we get there.

Donald H. Anderson  (8)  (8)  (5)  (10)

Reject federal funds if they continue to be tied to the No Child Left Behind Act as it presently stands.

David Detert  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

When is there going to be a discussion of year round school?

Chuck Lutz  (6)  (9)  (9)  (7)

Andy Driscoll  (-)  (-)  (-)  (-)

You're doing a bang-up job with this outfit and the website, especially these days.

Ted Kolderie  (-)  (-)  (-)  (-)

It continues to amaze me how people can at the same time look to 'the governor' for leadership and yet see, and accept, that the candidates for governor don't/won't deal realistically with the problems.  Everyone continues to over-personify the process. "When elected I will . . ."  "He will do this . . ."

Larry Schluter  (7)  (8)  (9)  (7)

A lot of good ideas.  I would like to see David Jennings lead the debate with the governor candidates and be able to ask follow-up questions if the candidate does not answer the question or dodge it. 

Robert J. Brown  (8)  (10)  (5)  (5)

3. School district size.  Minneapolis is only about half as big as it once was in terms of student enrollment so if the trend continues it may not be too big – if the overhead is cut in proportion to the decline in number of students. Some rural districts serve large geographic areas and it may be difficult to have them serve even larger areas. If intermediate districts picked up some of the nonacademic things (insurance, purchasing, etc.) then small enrollment districts could still exist and would give their constituents a personal relationship that is necessary for effective education. 

4.  Federal funds. I agree with this in theory, but schools and the state are so dependent on the federal money now it would  be difficult to replace most of the federal money for things like special education, the lunch programs, and paying the salaries of most of the state department of education. If the economy turns around and the state had a long-term plan it would be possible (and good) to phase out some of the federal involvement. 

Ray Ayotte  (7.5)  (10)  (10)  (5)



The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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