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Gasconade R-1 officials voice concerns to state lawmakers during Governmental Relations Day session

Posted on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 11:09 am

R-1 Director Mike Pratte, standing, talks to elected officials, from left, State Sen. Jeanie Riddle, county Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, Hermann Mayor Robert Koerber and State Rep. Justin Alferman during Friday morning’s Governmental Relations Day meeting.

Different year. Same story.
Gasconade County R-1 School District officials Friday morning voiced their concerns about a lack of state funding for transportation specifically and the prospect for public education funding in general — issues raised in past years — to a pair of state legislators during this year’s Governmental Relations Day.
Held Friday after the annual Veterans Day Ceremony at Hermann High School, this year’s Governmental Relations Day featured four elected officials in attendance — State Sen. Jeanie Riddle, State Rep. Justin Alferman, Gasconade County Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel and Hermann Mayor Robert Koerber.
Most comments by members of the R-1 Board of Directors were directed to Riddle and Alferman.
With R-1 Superintendent Tracey Hankins attending an administrators’ conference out of state, R-1 Director Mike Pratte moderated the discussion held in the district’s Administration Building.
Issued discussed ranged from the lack of broadband service in the more remote parts of the district to the continued erosion of R-1’s enrollment.
Riddle, R-Montgomery County, represents the 10th District, which includes the Montgomery and Warren counties portion of the R-1 School District.
Alferman, R-Hermann, represents the 61st District in the Missouri House; that district includes the parts of R-1 within Gasconade and Frankin counties.
Regarding limited Internet availability in the county, Koerber told the legislators that Hermann is in the process of developing a high-speed Internet system that will benefit students who are using technology more and more in their school work.
However, that will do little to help students living outside the city limits, a point acknowledged by R-1 Director Craig Schannuth. “That hits home for a lot of our students, if they can’t get service,” he said.
R-1 Board President Becky Whithaus said the primary concern for local district policymakers is the slide in enrollment, which translates into few dollars from state government.
“In our area, the young family population is just dwindling,” Whithaus said.
Riddle said that’s a problem being seen throughout Missouri. “That’s statewide,” the senator said. “Our youth are leaving the state.”
They are leaving their home areas — such as Hermann — because they don’t see an opportunity to make a good living after attending college, she said. However, she added, there are many jobs available in their home areas that don’t require a college education, trade and craft jobs that go begging for workers.
“I think we’ve made kids feel like second-class citizens if they don’t go to college,” Riddle said, referring to the focus on sending high school graduates into colleges as opposed to trade schools.
One of the more overriding concerns for R-1 officials is the limited state funding to operate the bus system. R-1 is among the largest districts geographically in Missouri, logging more than 1,000 miles a day for all its routes. Schannuth said R-1 receives about 17 percent of its transportation funding from the state; the rest is provided by local taxpayers.
Alferman noted that transportation funding is an on-going issue for legislators. Indeed, he said, lawmakers last session thought they had taken a major step in transportation funding.
“I thought we did a good job in the legislature this year,” he said, noting that a major increase in funding had been given. However, this summer Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration cut the transportation funding.
Alferman pointed out that one reason more pressure isn’t applied to lawmakers on transportation funding is that the majority of Missouri’s 500-plus school districts have either no transportation program or a very small program, which means funding is not a major concern.
“Three hundred-plus districts don’t have any transportation budget at all,” the state representative, noting that those districts are more concerned with obtaining additional Foundation Formula money than more transportation dollars.
Pratte, the vice president of the Missouri School Boards Association, said there is widespread concern about Greitens’ effort to replace Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven with an advocate of charter schools and school-choice vouchers.
“I’m concerned about what is happening to the State Board of Education and what Gov. Greitens is doing,” he said.
As a member of the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee, Riddle could have a role in checking the governor’s bid to stack the State Board of Education with his appointees, seen by many as a move to oust Vandeven.