What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Posts about Politics and government

Could Minneapolis ban foam containers in restaurants?

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: April 16, 2014 - 6:12 PM

Minneapolis could soon join dozens of other cities around the country in banning restaurants from offering food in foam containers.

Council Member Andrew Johnson will introduce an ordinance next Friday that would prohibit restaurants from using expanded polystyrene – commonly recognized as Styrofoam – in an effort to protect customers’ health and improve the city’s recycling system.

As Minneapolis considers how to be a “zero waste” city, Johnson said the foam is not economical to recycle.

“And frankly, it only delays the inevitable, which is that society is evolving away from Styrofoam completely,” said the rookie council member from south Minneapolis.

Johnson said the measure builds on an ordinance from the early 1990s that was not enforced.

The Minnesota Restaurant Association says it is unlikely to oppose the move, though some members have concerns about the January 1 effective date.

“Many of my members have reported back that they’ve already moved away from foam packaging,” said Dan McElroy, the association’s president.

The city currently collects recyclable materials from most residential buildings, while businesses contract with private haulers.

City recycling coordinator Kellie Kish said that if Minneapolis were to try to recycle Styrofoam, it would ask customers to clean the containers and put them in plastic bags.

But plastic bags are already the top contaminant in the city’s single-sort recycling program, she said, so doing that “would go against all of the education we’ve been doing.”

Photo: Taken by Flickr user mollyali, used under Creative Commons license.

Urban League Academy wins one-year reprieve

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 8, 2014 - 9:32 PM

The worst-performing alternative school under contract to Minneapolis schools for completing the education of students who have failed elsewhere will get only one year to show it can improve despite a show of force for a longer trial period.

Numerous board members and supporters of the Urban League Academy urged the board to give them three years to meet new district-devised accountability standard for alternative schools. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson originally recommended that the contract be terminated, but changed that to one year.

The board defeated on a 5-4 vote a proposal to give the school a two-year contract. Voting for two years were Tracine Asberry, Carla Bates, Kim Ellison and Mohamud Noor, who proposed the longer term. Voting against two years were Jenny Arneson, Rebecca Gagnon, Richard Mammen, Alberto Monserrate and Josh Reimnitz.

The board's debate centered on the reasonableness of expecting improvement in one year and whether the district is providing sufficient assistance in making those improvements.

Johnson stood up for her staff's recommendation. She argued that alternative schools got their contracts because years ago, "They said, 'We can do it better than you can...When I get someone to do a contract for me, I don't expect to do the work with them."

"This is not the first time we've had a performance conversation with the Urban League," she added.

Urban League representatives argued that they get students who have attended multiple schools and have accumulated few credits late in their high school careers.  But other alternative schools that serve similar students show better results.

Publisher and league board member Al McFarlane pressed the board for a three-year contract with reasonable conditions built in.  Any length contract would be subject to cancelation, the board was told by General Counsel Steve Liss.

The decision came as the board has professed a desire to increase accountability throughout the district. But board member Tracine Asberry was critical that the standards of accountability are directed more outwardly at such schools than at the district's own schools.

All but one of the other alternative schools, which is expected to convert to a charter, were recommended for two of three year contract extensions.

Mayor Hodges responds to article about pothole disparities

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: April 7, 2014 - 3:33 PM

Over the weekend, Mayor Betsy Hodges wrote in a Facebook post that different “service levels between one part of town and another are unacceptable,” in response to a Star Tribune article on disparities in how Minneapolis reports addressing complaints about potholes.

She said even before the story ran, she asked department heads to examine how they could “increase equity” in their departments. The mayor said that Public Works Director Steve Kotke is “committed to gathering the right to data to really know what's happening and where with streetlights, potholes, plowing and any other service we provide.”

Public works officials have said that data showing pothole complaints to 311 are addressed the fastest in the Southwest and Nokomis communities – where citizens make the most complaints – is because of differences in how crews file paperwork, and that the same resources go to all parts of the city. Records show that north and northeast Minneapolis saw slower times and made fewer repair requests with the city.

“This might be a question of how the reports are filed, but we need to know for sure and we need to get it right for North and for the whole city,” Hodges, who campaigned on making the city more racially equitable, wrote on Facebook.

In an interview today, Hodges said that 311 complaints don’t account for all that public works crews do, but that “the first step is to make sure we’re getting good and consistent data.” In looking at it services, she said the city should ask, “How are we measuring this, and how would we measure this if we wanted to look at equity across the city regarding this service?”

Some services are more driven by citizen complaints than pothole repair, such as fixing streetlights, according to Hodges and Kotke.

“It’s not a shock that people in wealthier parts of the city are complaining more than people who are in low-income parts of the city,” said Hodges. “And … to the extent that our work is guided by complaints, that our services are guided by complaints, we need to take a look at that.”

Bad weather strikes Mpls schools again

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 4, 2014 - 9:24 AM

It’s going down as the school year when Minneapolis can’t catch a break when it comes to the weather.

The district announced Thursday that it’s cancelling field trips on Friday that were to serve as the capstone for a week of extra work over spring break by students striving to get ready for state tests. Classes will go on at the 13 participating schools.

That’s right, the pending snowstorm is even cancelling part of spring break.

One reason the district gave for holding its Spring Break Academy was bad weather earlier this school year.  That cost students days of preparation for upcoming state tests. All students have lost six days of schooling to cold or snowy weather. Students in schools that aren’t air-conditioned also lost two work days during record heat during the first week of school.

This week, students participated in lessons that were intended to dovetail with trips to such venues as the Minnesota Zoo, Science Museum of Minnesota and the University of  Minnesota’s Raptor Center. Some studied wildlife habitat, for example.

There was no immediate explanation from the district on why it was still transporting students to spring break classes, but not to field trips.

[Update: MPS wants to ensure students are in school for the final day of Spring Break Academy to continue the positive momentum of the past week. Due to the predicted snowfall, MPS canceled field trips on the final day to ensure the safety of our students and staff members. Morning pick up and afternoon drop off routes are short and concentrated to local neighborhoods. Field trip routes, however, would have involved much longer distances and greater amounts of traffic. MPS decided to cancel field trips to minimize travel and reduce the amount of time students and staff members were on the roads.]  

Principal contract gives Johnson new recruiting tools

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 2, 2014 - 6:05 PM

Minneapolis principals have approved a new two-year contract that gives Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson a substantially stronger hand in recruiting outside leaders for schools and attracting current ones to hard-to-staff buildings.

Under the deal, Johnson is likely to know of principal vacancies sooner, will have up to $10,000 to lure outside principals for vacancies and can offer similar-size incentives to attract principals already on the district payroll to low-performing schools. The money also may be used to counter an outside offer to a Minneapolis principal.

The new deal was approved by a bargaining unit of about 100 principals and assistant principals; the Principal Forum did not announce the margin of approval. It makes changes in line with Johnson's push for making pay for district leadership partially tied to performance.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the deal Tuesday.

The money incentives come as the district expects a wave of departures in the next few years as more principals near retirement age. It is also seeking new principals for South and Washburn high schools. The district also needs a principal for the Cityview building, which is reopening next fall. In the last 10 years, it has lost North Principal Mike Favor and Henry Principal Paul McMahon to suburban posts.

For new principals, the deal means that it could take as long as 12 years to reach the top of the salary schedule, rather than the current seven years.  But the deal gives Johnson the freedom to jump a principal by more than one salary step to meet an outside offer, for exceptional performance or for taking on added duties. The new salary schedule kicks for next school year, after a 1 percent salary hike for the current year that was negotiated. 

Several changes were described by the district and forum negotiator Roger Aronson are market-driven. For example the new schedule actually lowers beginning pay for assistant principals, and means they will take longer to reach a top of scale that's about $4,000 higher than the current maximum.

For elementary principals, starting pay will be $100,000 about $300 less than now, and lag the current schedule until the ninth year.  Maximum pay will top at $124,337 after 12 years, compared to this year's $115,183. Middle school principals will continue to be paid slightly more than elementary principals, and K-8 principals will get their scale, rather than their current stipend for elementary-middle grades duties.

The biggest upside is for senior high principals, where district officials acknowledge more money was needed to stay competitive with other districts.  Their beginning pay will rise from $105,723 this year to $107,500 next school year, while the 12th-year max will top at $133,446 next year, compared to $121,290 after seven years this year.  

"This contract represents a little bit of movement away from the traditional steps," Aronson said.  He cited Osseo and Hopkins as examples of districts where salary ranges for principals rather than strict salary steps have been instituted; Johnson's ability to move meritorious principals several steps means they are no longer strictly frozen at their accumulated years of experience.

Perhaps the biggest change is that Johnson will be able to offer up to $10,000 as a quasi-signing bonus to lure principals from other parts of the country where pay may be higher.  Distrct CEO Michael Goar said that the district could negotiate with an incoming principal over whether the newcomer would be eligible to earn an annual performance premium.

Johnson also will be able to dangle up to $10,000 in front of current district principals as an incentive to transfer to one of the district's designated lower-peorming schools. Although she has the contractual right to assign principals, Goar said it's preferable not to force a highly regarded principal into a difficult school. He said that acceptance of such an incentive would depend on the principal agreeing to stay for several years. He said the extra money also could be structured as an annual performance bonus.

The new agreement also adds penalties for principals who don't tell the district by Feb. 1 that they're leaving. an addition that's designed to help the district better recruit their successors. The penalties come in the form of deductions of from $3,500 to $5,000 from the sick leave cashout that the principal would otherwise be paid.  Principals accumulate unused sick leave and get 60 percent of its cash value when they leave. For new hires, that cashout will be capped at 100 days, which the district said is slightly below the current average days accumulated by departing principals.  

    

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