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Five Hawks Elementary students stuff Bags of Smiles for pediatric patients in Minnesota

First- and fifth-grade students from Five Hawks Elementary recently teamed up with Bags of Smiles — a volunteer-based nonprofit that donates fun items to local pediatric patients in Minnesota — to stuff bags and have them delivered to 18 different children’s hospitals.

The students filled bags with items that were packed by age group including Lego sets, reading and coloring books, toys, crafts, crayons, stuffed animals and journals.

Jamie Campbell, first-grade teacher at Five Hawks, said Bags of Smiles was started by one of her close friends that saw a need for children needing toys and games to make their time at the hospital pass.

According to the Bags of Smiles website, the nonprofit was founded in 2011 by the Burma family after their son was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. Their mission is to provide children battling cancer and other serious illnesses a chance to be a kid and smile.

“My friend’s nephew ended up in the hospital and they realized how many kids sat in the hospital alone all day everyday while parents were working,” Campbell said. “They just saw a need to provide things for children to do basically on their own while their parents weren’t there.”

Campbell said all the items in the bags are graciously donated by corporations and people who want to help.

“Everything was provided for us. We just stuffed the bags,” Campbell said. “We bagged up items for girls ages 7 to 11 that included journals, coloring books, colored pencils, diced games and all sorts of things.”

Campbell said she felt the need to volunteer her students because she believes there’s more to learning than what is taught in a classroom.

“February was Kindness month and we celebrated that in our first-grade classroom, and I as a teacher, truly believe there’s so much more learning outside of math, reading and writing,” Campbell said. “I love to give back and for my kids to see that it’s not just about us and it’s really giving back to the community. I reached out to my friend and asked her if we could help with her nonprofit in stuffing the bags.”

Campbell said her students, along with her fellow teacher, Jaime Chilsons’s fifth-grade class, bagged a total of 150 bags last Wednesday, March 8 at the school.

“My first-graders and their fifth-grade buddies did it as a buddy activity, and the kids also wrote cards to the kids who will be receiving the bags,” Campbell said. “They were just positive, inspirational words and we stuffed those in the bags, too.”

Campbell also said the bags will be delivered throughout the year to hospitals who need them.

“Bags of Smiles deliver all year round. There’s 18 children’s hospitals in Minnesota that they deliver to,” she said. “Throughout the year, when the hospitals say they’re low, then they deliver out to them.”

Campbell added that she hopes her students will go on helping others in need after they leave her classroom.

“I love my students. The biggest thing I hope they walk away from my class is to be a kind human,” Campbell said. “The smiles were everywhere when they were stuffing bags. The energy was high and hearing their conversations while packing the bags for kids in the hospital was so uplifting.”

For more information on Bags of Smiles, visit its website, https://bagsofsmiles.org/

Tabke proposes minimum wage for non licensed school employees

Should the state legislature set a minimum wage for non licensed school employees?

It’s a debate taking place at the Statehouse after Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, introduced legislation which would provide a $25 minimum wage for nonlicensed employees that have contact with students and who work at least 14 hours a week on average and at least 100 days a year.

“It’s really problematic, the way we’ve been paying these folks,” Tabke said.

Starting July 1, districts would also be required to pay 100% of annual health insurance premiums and at least 50% of the annual out-of-pocket maximum for a single individual health insurance plan. For families, the district would also have to pay for at least 85% of annual premiums and at least 50% of the annual out-of-pocket maximum.

While Education Minnesota and other advocates are supporting the legislation, some districts are concerned about giving up too much local control — and with the price tag.

“House file 1348, in our view, sends a message to our school boards that the legislature doesn’t trust our school boards to do the work they were elected to do, and required to do,” said Kirk Schneidawind, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association.


As of right now, about 300 paraprofessionals, food services and Kids’ Company staff make less than $25 an hour in the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and would be impacted by the legislation, said Kristi Mussman, a spokesperson for the school district.

The cost to the district would be approximately $1.5 million, and providing health insurance to the staff members would cost around $800,000 to $1 million, Mussman said.

“We respect and value the contributions of all of our staff who support our students each day,” she said in an email. “While this bill has merit, these costs could be unfunded or underfunded and would take away funding for other programs, staffing affecting classrooms and increased costs to families for fee-based programming, to name a few.”

Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond said he won’t speculate on the cost for the district until the funding is determined for the legislation.

“It would be irresponsible of me to speculate at this time about the financial impact of a bill that does not contain specifics on a number of its financial features, both revenues and expenditures, and before the legislature sets their financial targets and we see how that impacts this particular bill,” Redmond said in an email.

As the bill stands currently, Aaron Tinklenberg, a spokesperson for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191, said it would cost the school district about $2 million to pay for the mandated $25 per hour minimum wage.

“The district would have to find a way to balance that increased cost,” Tinklenberg said in an email. “There’s only so many ways to do this, including reducing programming, eliminating positions or finding a way to lower other salaries to offset the cost.”

Tabke said the intent of the legislation isn’t to force districts to make cuts in order to pay for the increases. He said the state would provide funding to school districts — standalone funding, separate from standard general education funding — to make sure there is enough to pay employees $25 an hour, or the minimum wage decided on by the state. If a district has leftover funds, Tabke said the district could decide how the funds are used, as long as it’s spent on support staff.

“Our goal is for everyone to have a floor of $25 an hour,” Tabke said.

Tabke noted the final numbers will be determined once the final education appropriation package is settled.

“We’re not going to the shrink the money going into the formula to meet the target,” Tabke said.

If approved Tabke, said the intent is for the funding to continue past the biennium budget.

Local controlSchneidawind said state law requires school boards to negotiate in good faith with collective bargaining units over conditions of employment. It includes hours of employment, compensation premiums to group health insurance plans and employer personnel policies.

“Every provision within this bill can be collectively bargained,” he said during the committee meeting.

State Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, also echoed concerns regarding districts giving up local control, during a House Education Policy committee meeting.

“Are we having the legislature act as state school boards? I don’t think that’s right either,” Bennett said. “This is a local issue and should stay local.”

A former mayor of Shakopee, Tabke said he believes in the importance of local control and doesn’t feel the legislation would impact it.

“I think as many decisions as possible should be made as local as possible,” Tabke said.

Short on employeesLike most other professions, school districts are dealing with the effects of the post-COVID labor market. Advocates of the bill hope the legislation will help with the issue.

“I am seeing an historically high number of open (education support professional) positions in the district and the toll it puts on those that choose to stay. ESPs that are tackling a double/triple workload will continue to leave,” Jessica Gleason, a paraprofessional in Robbinsdale said during a House committee meeting.

Redmond said it’s not just support staff who are leaving education to take jobs at private businesses. He said the Shakopee district has lost teachers to jobs in retail, where he said they can make more money.

“When out and about in the community, I see large banners on gas stations and other businesses that announce starting wages of $21 an hour plus benefits,” Redmond said in an email. “We are not only competing with other school districts, we are competing with all kinds of businesses for employees, and it’s nearly impossible for school districts to compete with other businesses when school funding doesn’t keep up with the rate of inflation.”