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Erik Burgess, Published August 16 2012

Education commissioner urges Moorhead to pursue grants

MOORHEAD – How to keep public schools here competitive next door to the budgetary giant that is North Dakota was a topic of interest at a community discussion with local and state education officials Thursday.

Minnesota’s Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius told a room full of area teachers and parents that national grant money is available and “could be a game changer” for cities like Moorhead.

“I’m saying, everybody, go for this money,” Cassellius told the audience.

Cassellius said a federal grant called “Race to the Top” was recently made available. For this grant, $400 million will be given to school districts across the states, with prizes that range from $5 million to $40 million, she said.

Districts can even pair up, the commissioner said, so Moorhead could potentially partner with Fargo to get the grant money. This suggestion was met with some groans and a few laughs by the audience.

“We’re at a real disadvantage on the border,” said Wayne Kazmierczak, assistant superintendent of Moorhead schools. “North Dakota’s great. I’m happy for North Dakota, but Minnesota’s in a unique situation because we’re bordering North Dakota.”

Kazmierczak also brought up wealth disparity within the state, citing some districts near the Twin Cities that have much more spending cash than Moorhead.

“You hit me right here in my heart when you started talking about the funding that is available in some of our more wealthy communities,” Cassellius told the audience. “It’s very troubling.”

Some parents and teachers brought up the concern that not enough parents were getting involved in the education system.

“They don’t seem as actively engaged in their child’s education,” said one mother of seven, whose children have spent a combined 23 years so far in Moorhead schools. “When I go to parent-teacher conferences, there’s hardly anyone there.”

Cassellius said making sure you engage families early is crucial to building a strong relationship with them.

With 835,000 kids going to public schools in Minnesota, a number much higher than private and home-schoolers, Cassellius remained optimistic about the education system here.

“If everybody was really upset with it, they would choose something else,” she said. “So I think there’s some pretty darn good schools; it’s just don’t we have a big enough tool kit yet.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518