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

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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.  


Four Sullivan educators raising funds for Somali trip

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 28, 2014 - 4:55 PM
Pictured: James Kindle, Laura Byard, Kaitlin Lindsey, Ayan Mohamed

Pictured: James Kindle, Laura Byard, Kaitlin Lindsey, Ayan Mohamed

Two days after the end of school in June, four Minneapolis educators plan to head off to a different kind of summer school.

Three teachers and a Somali-born bilingual aide from Anne Sullivan Communication Center plan to fly to Somalia in a quest to better understand the background and educational needs of Somali-American students who make up 60 percent of the school’s enrollment.

They’ve raised $10,000 of the planned trip’s budget, but still have $6,000 to raise. They’ve established a web site where they’re appealing to the public for donations.

The belief giving rise to their travel is that they can better understand the needs of their students if they have a chance to learn more about the culture from which they spring. About 30 percent of Sullivan students are refugees.   

The four travelers are associate educator Ayan Mohamed, who was born in Somalia, and teachers Kaitlin Lindsey, James Kindle and Laura Byard.  All four work with English learner students at Sullivan.

Their two-week itinerary includes school and home visits in Somalia, Ethiopia and possibly Djibouti. They’re hoping that a deeper knowledge of Somali language and culture will help them build stronger relationships with their students and their families.

They're building on connections gained through Mohamed and her extended family.  She left Somalia at age 10 and will return for the first time at age 32. She's working as an associate educator at Sullivan while pursuing licensure to teach English learner students, which she expects to obtain this year.

Besides improving their own teaching, the Sullivan travelers plan to create what they’ve dubbed a Somali Newcomer Toolbox for other teachers. It will include a summary of their travel blog, sharing assumptions that were challenged and insights they gained; a visual presentation of recommended changes in teaching to benefit Somali students;a database of still and video images that teacher can use to make learning materials more relevant to Somali-American students, and adaptations of standard district curriculum to connect better with those students. They also plan presentations for Minneapolis teachers before school opens next August, and one the following spring for other Minnesota English learner teachers.

The educators already have invested considerable time in trying to become more competent in teaching refugee students. Three are enrolled in a Somali language and culture course. They visit student homes to build ties with families. They’ve independently studied Somali literature.

The major funding for the trip comes from a $10,000 grant obtained through AchieveMpls, the local administrator for the national Fund for Teachers.  

City has nibbles on parkway bridge reuse

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 27, 2014 - 11:47 AM
A view from the current bridge

A view from the current bridge

The city of Minneapolis has already had some nibbles from potential buyers of the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge that it's trying to peddle.

That's the word from Ole Mersinger, an engineer in the city's transportation planning and design section.

"There's been some inquiries on it, but I don't know how viable they are," Mersinger told MPLS this week.

Proposals are due by April 30 for trusses from the five-truss bridge that is scheduled to be removed in 2015 so a new bridge (right) can replace the outmoded crossing that carries the parkway over the Northtown railyard.

But only four of five trusses are on the market, Mersinger clarified.  The fifth will be retained in the area for historical interpretation that's to be incorporated in the bridge's landscaping plan.

Ordinarily, the city wouldn't need to offer a worn-out bridge for sale. But the bridge's location on the Grand Rounds parkway system and over the railyard, both considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, means the city needs to take extra steps.  A memo negotiated with various state and federal agencies requires that the bridge be marketed to be preserved as an historic structure -- even if in a new location.

The city's bridge contractor, to be selected in after bidding this summer, will remove the five trusses and relocate them nearby.  Then the submitter of the winning proposal will be responsible for disassembling it for transport and hauling it to a new location. The city's request for proposals specifies that the winning proposer must reuse the bridge for public transportation.

That requirement, and the likely costs associated with carrying out any reuse proposal, pretty much rule out all but a proposal from another government unit, the city said. But it's possible that the trusses could be split among more than one interested buyer, Mersinger said.

Mersinger said that the bridge is the first he's aware of that the city has offered publicly. But there's precedent for reusing spans. When the Broadway Avenue Bridge was replaced in 1987, one of its spans was floated downriver to bridge the East Channel between SE Main Street and Nicollet Island.  However, the bridge load is actually supported by modern beams underneath the historic span.

Perhaps a better example for the current city offer is the nomadic history of the Silverdale Bridge.  The 1870s wrought-iron truss bridge began service in Sauk Centre, Minn., then was relocated in 1937 to a state highway in Koochiching County (below).  In 2011, it was reassembled to carry bikes and pedestrians on the Gateway Trail over Manning Avenue in Washington County.


District sends corrected budget splits to schools

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 26, 2014 - 9:26 PM

Minneapolis' public schools sent corrected budget figures to 69 district schools on Tuesday following a foulup in earlier figures that severely shorted what the district said was about a dozen southwest schools.

The district didn't announce that it had released the new allocations for next school year until late Wednesday, a day later. Spokeswoman Rachel Hicks called it "reasonable" to give principals a look first.

Officials said that 59 of 69 schools will get increases in their discretionary spending compared to the current school year. Ten schools will get less money.

The allocations were sent to schools, but the district didn't post them on its web site.  However, the district did release the revamped discretionary portions of school budgets Wednesday evening in response to a Star Tribune request.  Those numbers do not include portions of school budgets which must be spent for designated purposes.

The district said that the revised allocations provide almost $8 million more to schools than those released earlier this month. That will be welcome news for the schools where parents complained loudly that the figures they had earlier been given wouldn't cover basic needs.

The latest budget figures are still preliminary and subject to revision before the board adopts a budget in June for the 2014-2015 school year in June. Area superintendents will still be working with principals to determine if they need additional money for unfunded needs from a discretionary pot. One prime use for preliminary budgets is deciding whether a school will release or add teachers and other staff for the coming year.

"I acknowledge and apologize that this budget process has been challenging and confusing." Chief Operating Officer Robert Doty (pictured) said in a public letter.     

Among the sites projected to get less discretionary money overall are Olson and Anthony middle schools, and Transition Plus, a program for older special education students. All three are projected to enroll fewer students. Getting less on a per-pupil basis were Dowling, Emerson, Northrop, Waite Park, Edison and North's Arts and Communication Academy, all of which are projected to add students.



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