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Rural Administrators Speak Out On Challenges

The chief concerns of rural Minnesota school administrators fall into two categories, according to a study in the fall issue of The Rural Educator: student achievement and fiscal management.

For student achievement, education leaders said they could use help with testing and adequate yearly progress. And for fiscal management, they cited balancing budgets and transportation policy as two key areas in which they needed assistance.

The article, "Recommendations from the North Star State: Rural Administrators Speak Out," won't be available online for at least a couple of months in the publication, which is the official journal of the National Rural Education Association.

Julia Williams and Gerry Nierengarten, both of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, introduce their research by saying administrators in Minnesota rural schools have been trying to meet district, state and federal goals while coping with shrinking resources and capacities for financial support.

Although they reference studies that say the state's rural schools have less money per child than non-rural schools, they said their goal isn't to advocate for more funding but rather to identify "possible levers that rural administrators may use to promote less disparity between country and city school children, and the opportunities they receive in schools." Most of those suggestions were state-specific.

The researchers surveyed members of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, which includes superintendents, business managers and principals. More than two-thirds of those who responded were from systems that served fewer than 1,000 students. After that, researchers held six focus groups to add depth and context to the survey responses and identify possible solutions.

They found, not surprisingly, that the dominant theme involved state testing and increasingly rigorous federal Adequate Yearly Progress goals. Administrators were overwhelmed with the expectations, and said some groups of students were being under-served as a result of the federal achievement requirements. The second-most commonly identified issue was balancing budgets, with concerns ranging from fiscal management to insufficient funding.

Most of the recommendations from administrators were state-specific and involved the state's funding formula or the resource and service allocations of state agencies. For example, administrators suggested changing the formula so that transportation was funded separately, or using an inflation index to provide a more dependable stream of money.

The researchers suggested reviewing and revising the state's current funding policies, as well as modifying the procedures of state agencies, such as having the state education department giving more support to rural areas.

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