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When I wrote this post about St. Cloud getting daily air service, I intentionally highlighted the fact that this is a one-year agreement, that fares aren’t exactly cheap and that profitability is more than a bit questionable at this point. A year from now, we’ll have a better picture of whether the air service is profitable. We’ll know that because we’ll have hard numbers to crunch.

As informational as the Times article was, they didn’t talk about other air carriers undercutting SkyWest’s prices and they certainly didn’t talk about workforce issues. I just googled pilot shortages. According to Google, there are over 19,000,000 articles on the subject. Workforce issues are dragging the airline industry down. This WSJ article highlights the how severe the pilot shortage is:

A decade of restructuring in the U.S. airline industry has produced a sharp reduction in air service that is curtailing traveler choice and some local economies even as it improves the industry’s health, new research shows.

The study, by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shows that from 2007 through last year, U.S. airlines cut the number of scheduled domestic flights by 14%. The number of seats offered fell by slightly less, as airlines pushed passengers onto bigger planes, says the study, which was prepared by MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation and is expected to be made public Wednesday.

If airlines are cutting flights to Memphis and Pittsburgh, cities that have large customer bases, shouldn’t St. Cloud wondering if they’re being unrealistic? I’m an optimist but I can’t ignore the fact that the supply of qualified pilots is deteriorating rapidly. Wishing and hoping is nice for birthdays and Christmas but it isn’t the way to set public policy. Public policy should be put together by crunching numbers and fitting policies with reality.

At this point, what’s needed is a discussion about increasing the number of pilots and other airline support personnel. That necessarily means talking with President Potter and Chancellor Rosenstone about the foolishness of shutting the SCSU aviation program. That means talking with Chancellor Rosenstone and SCTCC President Helens about starting a program that trains air maintenance personnel. (Pilots aren’t the only things that airlines are in short supply of.)

While it’ll take time to start graduating pilots from schools, the reality is that we’ll be in worse shape 5 years from now if nothing is done. That isn’t wise. As the supply of pilots deteriorates, we should understand that airlines will staff flights from places like Memphis and Pittsburgh first while pilots flying for regional airlines will be cut.

President Potter made a major mistake in shutting the aviation program. Unfortunately, he won’t admit what’s obvious. Chancellor Rosenstone hasn’t shown leadership in this matter, either. A leader would’ve told President Potter that he made a mistake and that it’s time to correct that mistake.

If society wants fewer flights staffed with fewer experienced pilots, we’re on the right path. If society doesn’t want that, then it’s time that leaders to step forward and correct this mistake. That means local politicians and state legislators pressuring people like President Potter and Chancellor Rosenstone.

It’s time for Mayor Kleis to step up and put pressure on President Potter. Scheduled air service to Chicago depends on the availability of flight crews and flight maintenance people.

It’s that simple.

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This St. Cloud Times article left me with more questions about the St. Cloud State Police Department than I got answers.

Move-in day at St. Cloud State University this year saw the continuation of a trend of fewer citations issued to St. Cloud State students and fewer issued overall by police.

That’s the good news.

There is another trend that causes trouble for university officials and police: The violence associated with crime on and around the campus is on the rise. That escalation has increased the threat to students’ safety and stands as the main reason the university is paying the city of St. Cloud $240,000 each of the next three years for three police officers dedicated to patrolling the campus and its surrounding areas.

This article attempts to explain why St. Cloud Mayor Kleis and SCSU President Potter signed an agreement in which St. Cloud State, aka SCSU, pays $240,000 per year for the next 3 years. The article didn’t do a good job with that, especially considering the fact that the first St. Cloud Times article, which I wrote about here, was something I’d expect from St. Cloud State’s PR department. Here’s what was said in the Times’ first article:

During the just-completed 2013 move-in weekend, St. Cloud police reported issuing 59 citations, only 11 of which went to university students. That’s a huge drop from last year’s citations, which totaled 161. More importantly, the 11 citations to students last weekend continued a steady decline in the number of university students contributing to any move-in weekend problems.

Look no further than the latest tool to make the campus neighborhood safer — the St. Cloud Police Department’s new Campus Area Police Services officers. Thanks to the university paying salaries and benefits, three city police officers are assigned to the campus area.

Here’s the first red flag in the article:

The agreement between the city and university was years in the making and has resulted in critics from St. Cloud State wondering why the university has to spend $720,000 over the next three years for something they believe the city should already be providing.

Three questions leap to mind from that paragraph. First, why didn’t Mayor Kleis and President Potter issue a statement when they signed the agreement? They didn’t inform the public until after they started taking criticism. Second, if there has been a significant uptick in violent crime in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Cloud State, why didn’t that become a subject addressed during a City Council meeting or a Meet & Confer meeting? If students’ safety is a high priority and the agreement “was years in the making”, why can’t anyone from the City Council or the SCSU Faculty Association remember discussing this pressing problem? Third, where was the St. Cloud Times on this? Each day, they publish a crime log in their newspaper. If there was a significant uptick in violent crimes in the neighborhoods closest to the SCSU campus, shouldn’t they have written a major expose highlighting this? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

Apparently, the Times is more interested in being President Potter’s cheerleader than they’re interested in doing their jobs as reporters. Either way, they aren’t a newspaper. They’re a media outlet.

Those are just the biggest questions raised by this article. If there has been an uptick in violent crimes near campus, why haven’t students addressed this during the City Council meeting during open forum? If they didn’t do that, they should’ve said something at a student senate meeting.

“This is the right thing to do and yes, it’s money that we have to take out of our budget and yes, it means that the $240,000 a year will not be available for things other people think are important,” he said. “But this is the safety of our students. This is not noise in the neighborhood. This is a life-and-death matter, and I’m perfectly happy to stand up to any critic and say this is a reasonable choice.”

President Potter’s insistence that “it’s money we have to take out of our budget” is BS. The primary function of government, whether local, state or federal, is public safety. Period. The neighborhoods surrounding the campus pay tons of property taxes. The homes to the north of campus along the Mississippi River are older homes but they’re big homes that pay lots of property taxes. The homes to the west of SCSU’s campus are mostly rental properties, meaning they either pay commercial property tax rates or they aren’t homesteaded. Either way, it isn’t like these properties are churches or government buildings.

If this is the crisis that the article says it is, then the Mayor and City Council should adjust their budget to meet their primary responsibility. Let me repeat that important point: Public safety is the city’s primary responsibility. If the city’s budget doesn’t first address that responsibility, then the budget is a failure.

If this agreement was years in the making, doesn’t that suggest that violent crime wasn’t addressed during those years? The city and SCSU can’t have it both ways. Either the agreement was a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event last November or it’s long been Mayor Kleis’s wish that President Potter pay for expanding the police force for years.

Either way, it’s questionable public policymaking.

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Monday night, the St. Cloud City Council met for a scheduled study session for the purpose of laying the groundwork for creating a regional airport authority. The meeting opened with Councilman Jeff Johnson speaking about the role that workforce infrastructure might play in attracting an airlines. Johnson teaches aviation at St. Cloud State.

Something Councilman Johnson mentioned in his address was reaching an agreement with a prospective airlines to do maintenance work in St. Cloud. Johnson said he could envision a tech college, presumably St. Cloud Tech College, offering a training course that would teach aviation maintenance.

Johnson said “Having an overnight regional airline maintenance facility at our airport would be much more cost efficient than having it in Chicago.”

Johnson pointed out that St. Cloud is playing catch up because they’re attempting to bring in an airline while bigger cities are attempting to keep regional air service. He cited the need for the entire community to pull together to attract regional air service, including the city, the education community and the business community.

Workforce feeder programs for pilots and maintenance personnel might tip the scales in St. Cloud’s favor, Johnson said.

In an interview with retired Aviation Professor Emeritus Patrick Mattson, Professor Mattson said “St. Cloud offers plenty of open airspace and airport space that could easily accommodate aircraft maintenance.”

During the study session, Mayor Kleis cited the fact that St. Cloud wouldn’t be in the running for air service if not for the entire region being behind it. Mayor Kleis said that the inclusion of cities and Benton, Stearns and Sherburne County was critical to attacting the airlines’ attention and consideration.

The next step in the process of creating a regional airport authority is drafting the resolution, followed by the St. Cloud City Council approving the resolution before sending the resolution to other cities and counties for their approval.

The most apparent negative to the process is St. Cloud State’s unwillingness to be a team player in helping attract a regional airline. Having them on board would be seen as a positive. At this point, that isn’t likely.

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9:13 — The convention is now open.
9:19 — Media present thus far are David Pundt of KLKS from Brainerd, Tom Scheck from MPR & Ed Morrissey of HotAir.
9:30 — St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis addressing the delegation. Prior, Rep. King Banaian of St. Cloud led the Pledge of Allegiance.
9:35 — Sarah Anderson, Kurt Daudt named temp chairs of the Convention.
9:59 — Kessler, Rachel Stassen-Berger is in the hall.
10:15 — Credentials report now in the books.
10:50 — Harry Niska now addressing the Convention about rules.
10:52 — Jerry Ewing from Platform Committee: the rules were followed from precinct caucuses to county/SD conventions to CD conventions. Oppose the amendment to allow new items to be added to the platform.
10:55 — Amendment is defeated.
11:22 — Rules Committee report debate getting contentious.
11:23 — Rules adopted.
11:25 — Agenda adopted.
12:15 — Kurt Bills: “Amy says that our problems are too big to solve. I say that our problems are too big to miss.” Wild cheers from the faithful.
12:20 — Laura Brod nominates Pete Hegseth for U.S. Senate.
12:30 — Pete Hegseth is now making his presentation for why he should be the next U.S. Senator from Minnesota.
12:31 — “I’m not running to be popular.”
12:32 — “It hasn’t been just Democrats that have gotten this country in trouble.”
12:34 — “Do people know that she has a more liberal voting record than Keith Ellison? Not yet, but they soon will.”
12:55 — Schudlick “I don’t have alot of money. Maybe it’s because the money comes from the special interests.” Harold, perhaps you don’t get the money because you’re boring after a gazillion runs for office.
1:40 — First ballot is starting.
2:40 — Still waiting for first ballots results.
3:03 — Severson 501 23.47%, Hegseth 450 21.08%, Bills 1,135 53.16%
3:26 — The buzz in the hall is that Bills will win on the second ballot.
3:28 — Light-hearted moment of the day: Kurt Daudt announcing that a person with a white car has a parking ticket. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the car hasn’t gotten towed.
4:25 — It’s over. Bills wins with 1,353 votes; Dan Severson got 439 votes, with Pete Hegseth getting 349 votes.

When John Pederson, Steve Gottwalt and King Banaian scheduled Friday night’s town hall meeting at St. Cloud’s Public Library, they had no way of knowing that public employee unions were planning on disrupting it. Things didn’t get ugly immediately but it didn’t take long before things got out of control.

The first question of the night was directed at Dr. Banaian, the economist, not Rep. Banaian, the Minnesota House member. Here’s the statement and question: “Study after study has shown that right-to-work lowers wages for all workers. Is this true?” Banaian said that there are many studies on the subject but no conclusive evidence in either direction, in the minds of labor economists.

After that, the meeting went downhill fast. When Rep. Gottwalt attempted to respond to a different question posed by a union member, a different union member interrupted, asking “Are you wearing your legislator’s hat or your Coborn’s hat”? When Rep. Gottwalt replied that he’s no longer employed by Coborn’s, the man who interrupted quickly apologized.

That was the first time union members in the audience interrupted. It certainly wasn’t the last time. In fact, union members in the audience made interrupting the rule, not the exception.

In fact, the most confrontational moment came when Rep. Banaian was answering another right-to-work question. Jerry Albertine interrupted, saying “Don’t sit there with your hairspray and your tie, you’ve never worked labor, and say you know what the unions are about.”

That was a statement Rep. Banaian forcefully responded to, saying that he’s a college professor who’s paid union dues to the IFO for over a quarter century.

There were approximately 100 people in the room, with approximately 60-70 of those people union members. AFSCME had a strong presence at the meeting. AFSCME was clearly visible in their bright colored logo on the back of their windbreakers.

Several times, Rep. Gottwalt mentioned how union members, many of whom are nurses, have told him that they want the choice of whether to be in a union or not. At one point, a person in the audience suggested that Rep. Gottwalt was lying, saying that it was convenient that these union members didn’t have names and that they wouldn’t come forward.

Rep. Gottwalt said that Friday night’s union antics are why they haven’t come forward, saying that they don’t want to deal with the unions’ retribution to those ‘wandering from the faith’.

The meeting lasted a little over an hour. During that time, 2 questions were asked about Photo ID, another question asking for a law requiring a legislative panel review whether legislation was constitutional and one question about the closing of the Aviation Program at St. Cloud State.

Another gentleman asked about the the possibility of a constitutional amendment ballot question for an Initiative and Referendum system and about Sunday licquor sales. All other questions were about a potential right-to-work constitutional amendment.

If not for the presence of St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, the meeting could’ve taken a nasty turn. That’s attributable to the unions’ disruptive, disrespectful behavior.

The unions quickly turned the event into an us vs. them confrontation. They quickly turned it inot a 1 percent vs. the 99 percent confrontation. They came armed with their predictable chanting points. They came intent on citing each of those chanting points. They didn’t come to discuss. They came to start a full-fledged confrontation.

They succeeded in that last point, though it’s safe to say that they didn’t change anyone’s mind on the issues they cared most about.

BTW, about the townhall meeting I mentioned in the title: it never had a chance. This was a union pep fest, pure and simple.

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Tonight’s townhall meeting at the St. Cloud Library was a portrait of Minnesota Nice. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a number of sharp questions and suggestions on how to solve the state’s budget crisis.
One woman that identified herself as working for a nonprofit asked if they’d get paid for work they’d done during a government shutdown. She also asked whether that would affect federal dollars. Another lady asked how the budget could be the biggest in state history and still be considered an all-cuts budget. That lady then asked why anyone would think that raising taxes won’t take money out of the private sector.

Though things got a little contentious during the last segment of the meeting, it was nothing like the contentiousness from last Monday’s townhall held at the Haven Township Hall.

During the second segment, Chuck Rau said that “Fifteen years ago, private employers moved away from defined benefit pensions to defined contributions because we had to.” He then asked why state employees hadn’t gone to that type of retirement system.

Mayor Dave Kleis moderated the event, breaking things down into half hour segments. Twenty minutes of each segment was devoted to people asking questions, with the other 10 minutes devoted to King answering questions.

Rep. Steve Gottwalt was scheduled to co-host the event but wasn’t able to attend. In the middle of Tuesday afternoon, I saw a tweet talking about a brief negotiation period on the HHS bill had yielded some positive results. As a result of that, the tweet said that they’d be holding another negotiating session starting at 4:00 pm Tuesday afternoon.

Shortly after seeing that tweet, I contacted Rep. Gottwalt to verify whether he’d be participating in the negotiations or whether he’d be participating in Tuesday’s townhall. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Gottwalt confirmed to me that he’d be participating in the HHS negotiations.

During the event, a wide range of questions were asked. Others chose to make suggestions. Though not as many as last week’s townhall, many questions focused on “the richest [fill in percentage] percent” paying their fair share.

King responded to most of the questions, including answering one tax the rich question with a question. King asked what percent was a rich person’s fair share. He then noted that capital and labor were more mobile than they were a generation ago. He then said that that’s why it isn’t possible to raise taxes on the rich without risking capital flight.

The crowd of approximately 60-70 people were generally well-behaved compared with last week’s agitated bunch that pushed the message that Republicans had to compromise with Gov. Dayton. Then again, Tuesday night’s group wasn’t as filled with public employee unions as last week’s event was.

Mayor Kleis, Rep. Banaian and the audience each deserve kudos for the integral parts they played in the townhall. There were still disagreements but they each played a role in showing how people can disagree without being disagreeable.

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Saturday morning’s townhall meeting featuring all 6 area legislators was certainly well-attended, with over 150 people attending. St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis moderated the event, doing a good job of keeping a good pace to the many people who wanted either for their questions to be answered or to have their voices heard.

Here are the notes I took at the meeting:

9:05– Hosch up first because he has 4 townhalls to attend. Talking deficit. “It’s gonna require compromise” to solve the deficit.
9:10– Rep. Gottwalt, Rep. Banaian & Sen. Pederson introduce themselves first, then Sen. Fischbach and Rep. O’Driscoll introduce themselves. Rep. O’Driscoll compliments Sue Ek & Kevin Poindexter of Rep. Banaian’s staff for putting this event together.
9:15– First question Emily APAC member says mobile home owners have been abused. Says they’re putting legislation together to do background checks on mobile home park managers. Talks about managers admitting that they’re selling drugs out of their office.
9:20– Retired judge dealing with the guardian ad leitum says their budget was cut by $1,000,000 a year.
9:25– James Rugg mentioned the SCSU Aviation Dept., then asked why universities aren’t focusing more on knowledge-based programs, not social-based programs.
9:27– Two more higher ed questions, one advocating for smaller cuts. Sen. Fischbach answers that they’ll be closely scrutinizing the budget. Rep. Banaian talks about voting against House Higher Ed bill, then says he’ll be taking a closer look at some things in Senate Higher Ed bill.
9:35– Lady talking about health care cuts causes them to miss their maintenance of effort targets. That causes them to miss additional fed funding. Sen. Pederson now addressing the question, saying misinformation is out there that he’s addressed with constituents.
9:40– Woman says she’s worried about cuts to HHS bill re: children with disabilities. Rep. Gottwalt says they’re seeking, on a bipartisan basis, waivers to increase flexibility for the health care programs. Representative Gottwalt then says that a 44% increase was the PROJECTED INCREASE & that we’re still increasing spending by 5%.
9:45– Bruce Hentges “Thanks for keeping education a priority.” Concern is with “redistribution of funds”, much of it dealing with Special Ed funding. Question is about losing special ed funding even though ISD742’s overall funding isn’t being cut. Rep. Gottwalt says that they’re working on reforms that they’re working on. Rep. Gottwalt then says that if ISD’s “enact certain reforms, the money is there.” Rep. Banaian says that they’re reducing mandates so ISD’s can start closing the achievement gap. Rep. Banaian also says that eliminating mandates will increase flexibility for the ISD. Sen. Pederson then talked about legislation they’re in the process of writing that should be submitted this week.
9:53– Rockville city councilmember Duane Willenbring thanks the delegation for the Green Acres fix. Rep. O’Driscoll says that the conference committee report is finished & should be on Gov. Dayton’s desk before May 1, noting that that’s an important deadline.
10:00– Small business owner asks about getting gov’t out of businesses. Says that the state lost almost $500K delivering service that small businesses could do better. Rep. Gottwalt says that they’re working on getting gov’t out of the way.
10:05– Sonja Berg talking now about LGA…says that they’ve had LGA cut by $3,000,000 the past 3 years. Asks for offering regional centers more flexibility.
10:10– Gentleman says that he & his wife just built their dream home west of St. Cloud, then says that Minnesota’s laws are holding back the economy…emphasizes the need for regulatory reform.
10:15– Lori Dieters from SEIU asks what will be done to “fix the real problem” of the wealthy not paying their fair share. Dieters says revenues are lost because jobs are being privatized into jobs that “pay $8/hr. & that they don’t get health care.”
10:20– Teamster union member asking about family planning dollars & sex ed.
10:22– Engineering professor saying that there’s a need to eliminate some of the higher ed schools in the MnSCU system.
10:30– Gentleman is talking about raising taxes, sharing the pain.

Most of the questions centered on either raising taxes, reforming MnSCU or cutting spending. It was apparent that some people with disabilities were worried about getting kicked off state programs based on their belief that the HHS budget was getting slashed.

As Rep. Gottwalt said, they’re increasing the HHS budget by $500,000,000. They’re also implementing several reforms which will save more than $100,000,000. Rep. Gottwalt said it’s unrealistic, and unsustainable, to increase the HHS budget by 44% per biennium. That’s what’s scheduled through the budget tail from last year’s HHS omnibus bill.

Consider the fact that the HHS budget is 25% of state general fund spending. That’s approximately $8,000,000,000 off the top this biennium. Increasing the HHS budget by 44% would add approximately $3,500,000,000 to the HHS budget this biennium.

That isn’t sustainable. What’s worse is that a $3,500,000,000 increase in the HHS budget would almost wipe out the HCAF. When that fund is depleted, Minnesota state law REQUIRES that people be kicked off taxpayer-subsidized health insurance plans.

We mustn’t forget that the MMB said then-Candidate Dayton’s planned tax increase would generate $1,900,000,000 in new revenue. That’s approximately 54.2% of what’s needed to pay for the projected 44% HHS spendng increase.

Saturday morning’s meeting was well-received by most in that most everyone got to ask their question or say their piece that wanted to speak up. The legislators certainly took the questions seriously.

Most importantly, it was important that the legislators got a reminder of where people were at before starting the home stretch of the session.

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According to Gov. Dayton and the DFL, LGA cuts are directly tied to property tax hikes. Mark Haveman disputes that:

Mark Haveman, with the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, said it’s true that property taxes increased over the past eight years when LGA was cut. But he said property taxes also increased in the early 1990s when LGA funding increased.

“Even in the LGA boom days, there has always been historical increases in per capita city property taxes,” Haveman said. “They’ve been lower than in recent periods, but that doesn’t say it won’t happen.”

Haveman said he believes local governments would spend differently if they didn’t receive state aid.

This information supports my contention that it’s tied directly to local spending decisions, not LGA. In the fat times, people expanded local governments beyond their mission.

Having read through St. Paul’s operating budget in 2008, I know whereof I speak. Though I don’t remember the specific things in the budget that I would’ve cut, I remember thinking that I could’ve cut a third of their operating budget and nobody would’ve noticed.

The thing that should frighten people is that reading through St. Paul’s operating budget took me an entire week. A CITY BUDGET!!! I’m betting that I could get through St. Cloud’s operating budget in a day, possibly a little bit longer.

I spoke with a friend last night who lives in northern Minnesota. We spoke about how cities can save money. I told him about the fact that I’m a 4th of July baby, which explains why I’m such a big fireworks addict.

Last year, after another year of cutting St. Cloud’s budget, Mayor Kleis spoke to the community about the city not paying for the event. Several of the major businesses contributed to the fund. Local citizens contributed, too, some giving $5, some giving $50, some giving $250.

By the time they finished collecting money, they’d collected enough money to put on the most spectacular fireworks display in my lifetime. It lasted about twice as long as in previous years. The fireworks were much more dramatic, too. In short, businesses and private citizens provided the solution to what had previously been a government expenditure.

I’m betting that last year’s solution will become tradition.

The point is that local communities can often provide solutions to things that shouldn’t have been government expenditures in the first place.

This likely wouldn’t have happened without the Great Recession. Using the DFL model, however, the first reaction likely would’ve been to raise taxes or to lobby for more LGA rather than looking for this type of solution.

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Yesterday afternoon, an Aviation Department student attending the SD-15 townhall meeting asked about transportation in general and aviation in particular as an economic development tool. I didn’t get the young man’s name but it’s clear he sees SCSU’s Aviation Department as a tool for economic development.

Clearly Mayor Kleis does, too, as he addressed the subject during Saturday’s townhall. He said that the minute that get a regional carrier serving either Chicago, Denver or Atlanta, businesses will move here.

The thing I keep returning to are the comments at last Monday night’s City Council meeting. According to the students, there is a pilot shortage coming, probably within the next 2-3 years.

At last week’s city council meeting, Mayor Kleis recommended the city council adopt a resolution sending the official message that they see the Aviation Department as important to St. Cloud’s economic viability.

Setting aside the Aviation Department momentarily, what I’m wondering is what level of public input went into the process. It is, after all, a community asset designed to generate economic prosperity while educating people. What weight was given to that input? Could other programs have been put online statewide to save money? Would these savings have kept core, job-creating programs open?

The 10 biggest programs at SCSU are: Mass Communications with 379 students enrolled, Criminal Justice Studies with 319, Accounting with 295, Management with 293, Elementary/K-8 Education with 285, Finance with 253, Psychology with 245, Marketing with 222, Community Psychology with 214, Aviation with 192 students.

Other programs with more than 100 students enrolled are Nursing with 177 students, Social Work with 137 students, Studio Art with 133 students, with Communications Studies 131 students and Biomedical Sciences with 106 students.

Speaking global prioritizing and budgeting, how many subjects should get moved into a new online university? Obviously, you couldn’t do that with classes like biology, chemistry, etc. because of the lab times but how many classes could fit into that new model?

Yes, I know that the vast majority of universities offer online classes. What I’m saying is that we should identify which university offers the best program for each subject, then let that university be the university that teaches that program online. Think of it as the online version of Wisconsin’s Centers of Excellence concept.

The current economic difficulties are forcing us to accelerate innovations to keep pace with 21st Century demands. SCSU and the Aviation Department are but a microcosm of the challenges, AND OPPORTUNITIES, sitting before us. It’s our choice to drag our feet or embrace the opportunities.

Visionaries see the possibilities. Now it’s up to the universities, the legislature and Gov. Dayton to work together to rebuild higher ed AND rebuild it at a much more reasonable cost to taxpayers.

I have no illusions that this will happen with the snap of our fingers. Still, setting the right priorities in terms of which programs should be offered at physical university campuses and which should be offered by online centers of excellence campuses can usher in a new era of educational excellence at fiscally conservative prices to taxpayers.

That’s the type of higher ed reform Minnesotans can get excited about.

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Jeremy Hahn spoke at last night’s session during the open forum time. Here’s a transcript of Mr. Hahn’s statement:

Hahn: I am a student at St. Cloud State. I’m the vice president of the St. Cloud State Aero Club and I’m an aviation student. I would like to speak on behalf of the Aviation Department and try and clarify some things that have been overlooked for the closure of the department.

First, I’d like to speak on the department. The aviation department is one of two 4-year bachelor programs in the state and is the only one accredited by the ABBI and with Congress trying to institute a 1,500 hour rule for pilot training, you need 1,500 hours to qualify for commercial airlines employment. The ABBI accreditation allows for students graduating from the program to be exempt from that. Closing the program would hurt central Minnesota’s and Minnesota’s ability to answer the demand for airline pilots in the industry.

As for enrollment at the Aviation Department, the Aviation industry parallels the economy. With the downfall of the economy, in fact the Congress raised the retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65. That was in December, 2007. There will be a demand increase in 2012 for pilots and without the St. Cloud State program, we will not be able to provide pilots for the industry.

As I spoke, I am a member of the Aero Club and it has been presented that the Aviation Department cannot afford to upgrade and operate a fleet of aircraft. The Aero Club is a nonprofit, incorporated association that owns its own aircraft and we receive no funding from the University and we have a contract with Wright Arrow, which is the flight training facility at the Airport. They also own their own aircraft and students from St. Cloud University do their training in these aircraft, which are not owned by the Aviation Department.

Therefore, no liability for upgrading the fleet is assumed by the department. It is for the Aero Club and Right Arrow to provide. ABBI does not require aircraft to have new avionics packages. However, the department did acquire this past year new equipment that will provide updated training for graduates.

After Hahn spoke, a Japanese aviation student spoke. I won’t attempt to spell his name because I’m certain I’m butcher it. The first point he made after saying he’s lived in St. Cloud the past 4 years is because St. Cloud State’s Aviation program is very affordable. He expressed concern “not only about the program and the economy but also the effect it will have on diversity.” He said that “hopefully, in the future, this city will be more global.”

I found these students’ arguments to be compelling. The fact that the Arrow Club and Wright Arrow maintain their own fleet of aircraft is compelling by itself. The federal government’s implementation of regulations that hamper pilot training right just prior to a foreseeable pilot shortage is bad policy. Keeping St. Cloud State’s Aviation Department open would supply pilots quickly at a time when there’s a shortage.

The fact that St. Cloud State’s Aviation Department’s prices are more affordable than others tells me that this is a department that’s being run right.

After these students’ presentations, Mayor Kleis spoke of the Aviation Department’s importance, saying that it’s an issue of economic development and important to St. Cloud’s economic viability.

Councilman Jeff Johnson, a faculty member of the Aviation Department, spoke briefly about Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s and Congressman Chip Cravaack’s interest in this issue, both from a homeland security issue and from the standpoint of training young people to meet the expected pilot shortage.

Later, upon Mayor Dave Kleis’s recommendation, the city council voted on a resolution that a formal letter be sent to the St. Cloud State administration stating their support for keeping the Aviation Department open as well as expressing the economic importance of the St. Cloud Airport to St. Cloud’s economy.

The motion was made by Councilman Gerger and seconded by Councilman Hontos. Councilman Johnson recused himself from the vote, stating conflict-of-interest issues. The resolution passed with unanimous support save for Councilman Johnson’s abstention.

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