Mounds View Public Schools recently conducted a survey of parents in its district and the results are unsurprising: Parents value quality teachers.
What might be surprising to parents is this information: Next year, Mounds View will employ fewer teachers, raise activity fees, freeze administrative salaries and allow vacant positions to go unfilled.
Because of declining enrollment and a continuing drop in state investment, the district will cut 6.4 teachers and five non-teaching staff members. The district will cut $820,000 in supplies and other services and will raise activity fees by $10.
Mounds View spokesman Colin Sokolowski said enrollment has been dropping steadily for years and forced the closure of two schools in 2005. He said enrollment is dropping because the district has little land for new housing and the residents are aging. Yearly losses of 250 students are common and have counteracted any previous state increases for inflation. Now that cuts in state aid seem imminent, school officials are bracing for the worst.
That’s where the survey comes in. The district will use the findings to attract families to Mounds View – although Sokolowski was careful to say the district isn’t poaching students from other districts. He said Mounds View has an 80 percent “capture rate” of students in the district; they simply want to attract students who might otherwise attend private schools or charter schools or are home schooled, he said.
The survey was conducted during one week in April. An e-mail was sent to about 5,000 parents in the seven communities served by the Mounds View district inviting them to participate in the opt-in, on-line survey. About 280 parents responded.
More than 99 percent of parents said quality teachers were the most important school district characteristic, followed by 91.5 percent who said a caring/respectful environment was important, and 94 percent that said safe schools was important.
These results were mirrored when asked about satisfaction. About 88 percent were satisfied with the quality of the teachers, 85 percent were satisfied with the respectful environment, and 93 percent were satisfied with the safety at the schools.
Sokolowski said he was very happy to see the results of the safety question.
“There’s this myth that schools are rough and unsafe and that sometimes turns people away from public schools. Our schools are safe. This survey helps us chip away at that myth,” he said.
Education funding statewide has dropped an inflation-adjusted 13 percent since 2003. In Mounds View, state education funding dropped 10 percent.
How connected a student feels to school is important to how they perform in school: connected students tend to do better on tests and drop out less. The vast majority of Mounds View parents said the teachers, curriculum, coaches and the physical environment were successful at keeping their children connected to school
With fewer dollars come fewer teachers, and thus fewer courses offered. Comparable districts in the Twin Cities offer world language instruction in middle and elementary schools. Mounds View does not. Next year, Spanish will be offered in Mounds View middle and elementary schools but the district will do so without adding any new teachers. To add Spanish instruction, family and consumer science will no longer be offered at the middle schools, and arts offerings will be downscaled. There will also be some reduction in technical education and business education.
“It was cost-neutral,” Sokolowski said.
Mounds View has its successes. Mounds View High School was one of 13 Minnesota schools to earn a silver medal as a top high school by U.S. News & World Report. The magazine analyzed more than 21,000 public high schools and awarded medals using Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests as benchmarks.
This recent honor, along with the April survey and the shifts in teaching to meet parent demands, shows that Mounds View educators are doing their job.
Often we hear of school districts that are in financial or educational crisis. Think what a high-functioning district like Mounds View could do with a fully funded toolbox? Parents value quality teachers. It doesn’t make sense that Mounds View would have to cut 6.4 teachers and reorganize the classes they offer simply to add Spanish just because statewide politicians pander to a small “no new taxes” fringe.
We all benefit from a quality education. Mounds View schools, as their parent survey demonstrates, are performing to a high community satisfaction standard. We shouldn’t allow any Minnesota school to be held hostage to ideologically-driven public policy. For a strong future, all of our kids deserve better.
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