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Minnesota lawmakers seek

Charley Shaw//November 22, 2004

Minnesota lawmakers seek

Charley Shaw//November 22, 2004

The state Capitol has become a revolving door since the Nov. 2 election, with newly elected members of the House preparing for their first session and departing representatives preparing for their next stages in life.

Steve Simon, a St. Louis Park DFLer who defeated Republican incumbent Jim Rhodes, says he’s not just talking to people in his own party.

“I’m reaching out to not only people in the community and community leaders; I’ve spent a lot of time talking with suburban Republican legislators,” Simon said.

Simon attended the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast Friday with a handful of other legislators from the western Twin Cities suburbs. He said he’s looking for similarities among the opposing views at the Legislature.

“I’m sure we won’t see eye to eye on everything, but we’ve got to find common ground,” Simon said.

Rep. Lynne Osterman, R-New Hope, who lost her seat to Democratic challenger Sandra Peterson, said she hopes to serve the state from outside the Legislature.

“It will be something that will serve me personally very well. I’m evaluating some opportunities that I can tell you quite honestly would never have come my way had I not had the courage to put my name on the ballot,” Osterman said.

The DFL notched sizable gains in the last election, picking up a net 13 seats. As a result, the 28-seat majority held by House Republicans was reduced to two seats.

“What I am hoping will come out of the near tie in the Legislature is not pessimistic,” Osterman said. “I hope that it will be very positive. The partisan environment that I encountered at the Legislature was not the environment that I had set my sights on when I decided as a sophomore in college that I wanted to serve there.”

Voters will choose again in 2006 when both the House and Senate are up for election. Sen. David Gaither, R-Plymouth, said the future looks dim unless the majorities in both chambers can cooperate.

“In my opinion, what has happened at the state level in the last session, and what I’m concerned about in the coming session is politics trumps policy,” Gaither said.

Education was a centerpiece of the legislative breakfast, with Education Commissioner Alice Seagren discussing new initiatives. Seagren, a former Republican state representative from Bloomington, began as commissioner Sept. 1 after being appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

She said an achievement gap exists in a system that can only react to children who are behind in school. New programs need to be implemented, she said.

“We need a huge sea change in the way we educate children. And focus not so much on remediation but look at ways in which we can start with children early and make sure they have all the building blocks in place as they enter school,” Seagren said.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was pushed by President George W. Bush, assigns grades for school performance. Seagren said her department will work with schools that are identified as underperforming.

Seagren said she will travel to Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6 to meet with Bush administration officials about No Child Left Behind.

Along with education officials from other states, she said, she will be talking about “flexibility issues” to make the legislation more fair and understandable to the public.

Seagren said funding for education is complex because of geographic and demographic differences throughout the state.

“(Pawlenty) is looking at a number of initiatives,” Seagren said. “He had a funding task force that looked at reform of the formula to make it more transparent and understandable. Some people have said it’s simple. Well, it’s never going to be simple because we have a complex state.”

Seagren discussed the results of a recent teaching commission that suggested areas of improvement in education.

Among the report’s four main points:

* Teachers should receive alternative compensation that factors in student achievement.

* Alternative “pathways” to teacher licensing should be pursued as a way to address teacher shortages.

* Higher education should become more “market driven” in a way that turns out instructors in needed subjects.

* Principal leadership is the fourth area of the report. To this end, Seagren and Pawlenty plan to travel to schools in Edmonton, Alberta, to look at novel ways in which management occurs within schools.

Seagren, who chaired the House Education Finance Committee, said she is getting ready for the upcoming legislative session in her new role as commissioner.

“I’m hoping it will be a positive session. I will do my part to bring people together,” Seagren said.

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