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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.

Palmisano downplays neighborhood council votes on housing teardown-rebuild moratorium

Posted by: Bill McAuliffe Updated: March 26, 2014 - 2:30 PM

With the Linden HIlls Community Council voting Monday not to take a position on the housing teardown-rebuild moratorium in southwest Minneapolis, the score became three neighborood groups opposed and two taking no position. That's all five in the moratorium zone.

But it isn't causing Council Member Linea Palmisano to budge on the ordinance, which she declared March 7 and which remains in place while moving through City Council approval processes.

Nor has she been moved by the opposition that was voiced in a council hearing Thursday, nor by the 1,182 signatures (through Tuesday) on an online petition, NoMoratorium.com.

Palmisano said yea-or-nay on the moratorium obscures the many issues that prompted it:  the scale of new houses, construction disruption and an apparent lack of monitoring and enforcement by the city.

 "Nobody wants a moratorium. It's a ridiculous question," she said of the neighborhood votes. "What everyone agrees on is that we have big problems here. The moratorium drama takes away from what we're trying to solve."

The just-elected council member asserts that a small group of opponents, some of whom don't live in the neighborhoods, have been rotating through recent neighborhood meetings and encouraging votes against the moratorium.

Residents in favor of the moratorium, meanwhile, were many and vocal at the council hearing, and Palmisano said an assessment of e-mails and phone calls on the issue from 13th ward residents to her and other council members' offices showed 216 in favor to 148 opposed as of Tuesday.

One of those who has attended all the neighborhood meetings has been Matt Perry, who lost last fall's election to Palmisano by a narrow margin.

Perry, who said he's been attending all the neighborhood association meetings in the 13th ward since last year, said he speaks at the meetings but doesn't vote in those in neighborhoods where he doesn't live. Both he and Palmisano say teardowns were the dominant issues they encountered while door-knocking in the campaign. But Perry said no one ever suggested a moratorium.

Perry said that because community organizations so rarely work in concert, the three recent votes opposing the moratorium are significant.

"If I were a council member, I would stop and say maybe I got this wrong," he said. Is this fodder for a 2017 13th ward rematch? Perry wouldn't acknowledge that, saying only that he's attending the neighborhood meetings to explore "what's best for the community."

In 2010, Palmisano was critical of the Linden Hills Community Council, of which she'd once been president, during the controversy over a proposed retail-condominium development in Linden Hills, saying it was not representative of the community.

Brian Simmons, president of the Kenny Neighborhood Association, acknowledged that neighborhood groups may not be an accurate representation of their communities, since they're often run by people who elect each other at sparsely-attended meetings. His group has not taken a position on the moratorium because it will focus on the teardown-rebuild issue at its annual meeting April 22, as planned long before the moratorium was imposed. Palmisano spent an hour and a half at the group's meeting March 18 answering questions about housing, SImmons said.

"We decided rather than go into that town hall forum with a standing board position, we'd get better participation from the neighborhood" without it, SImmons said. "I don't know what's going to be resolved April 22, but I think the discussion just needs to continue."

Budget foulup puts SW schools through wringer

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 24, 2014 - 9:01 PM

A budget foulup has snarled the annual process of divvying money for the next school year among Minneapolis schools, already a time fraught with difficult decisions over whether schools will have enough money to keep their current staffs.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson Monday apologized to families in the southwestern portion of the city, saying “we acknowledge that some mistakes occurred” in the initial allocations. The snafu significantly shorted about a dozen southwest schools.

Johnson’s letter came after parents at several southwest schools – Lake Harriet, Burroughs and Hale – complained vociferously on Friday and over the weekend that initial allocations left the schools unable to fund current staffs.

Parents at Hale elementary were told of a 12 percent budget cut after district finance officials earlier told school board members that money flowing to all schools would be up 5.8 percent. Burroughs elementary parents were warned of the school’s worst budget cut in memory by PTA leaders who said the school’s allotment would leave it without a full time secretary, a health assistant, remedial teachers, lunch and recess monitors and testing or web site coordinators.

District spokesman Stan Alleyne said Monday night that the mistakes involved about a dozen schools. He said it was unclear if the mistakes were caused by an incorrect formula, data-entry problems or another cause. The erroneous allocations were reminiscent of a 2011 mistake that the district blamed on a clerical error that underestimated the cost of a new teacher contract by $3.7 million.

 “We’re still looking into it. We know that some of the numbers are off,” Alleyne said. “In some cases, it was significant enough that it was obvious it was wrong,” he said.

District finance officials met Monday with area principals. One principal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were told that the budgets were “full of glitches, errors and mistakes. Our response was that was not acceptable; staff and families had great angst last week.”

The allocations are preliminary figures that are used to develop school-level budgets that then guide personnel decisions. Principals then typically meet with area superintendents to make the case for more money; some $5 million was added atop early budgets a year ago. Some staff then are told they won’t have positions, which forces them to seek positions at other schools if they have sufficient seniority.

The district has been telling schools that they’ll have a significant increase in their budgets for next school year, which made the cuts experienced by the affected schools all the more puzzling to parents.  It also turns out that some of the increase is simply moving to the school level money for such things as a principal’s salary that doesn’t increase the discretionary money that schools have for positions, programs or supplies. The 2013 Legislature raised the basic per-pupil amount for the next school year by 9.5 percent.

The budgeting error comes atop a year that has featured an unusual degree of secretiveness over basic budget matters.  For example, more than two weeks after a two-page summary of the proposed budget

was presented to the board’s Finance Committee, the district has not responded substantively to a Star Tribune request to clarify the document.  Nor has the district released publicly a set of school-level allocations 10 days after they were given to principals; some parents were circulating sets of numbers obtained surreptitiously. Johnson Monday cited a figure of $336 million for spending by schools, up $4 million from the figure given to the board two weeks ago, without explanation.

School board Chairman Richard Mammen referred Star Tribune inquiries about budget issues to Finance Committee Chair Rebecca Gagnon, who did not respond to a request for further explanation. Gagnon is seeking re-election this year.

(Photos: above right--Bernadeia Johnson; below right--Rebecca Gagnon)

How does your MPS faculty rank for experience?

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 24, 2014 - 11:34 AM

So maybe you’re curious after Sunday’s article focused on the concentration of inexperience in high-poverty Minneapolis elementary schools about how the school that serves your children or neighborhood stacks up.

The entire list of schools used in the analysis appears below.  Average teacher experience in 2007-2008 and the current school year are shown, along with the percent of lower-income children in each year

eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The 2007-2008 year was the last before the district negotiated a new protocol for interviewing teachers for vacancies that undercut the dominance of seniority in determining which teachers were interviewed for vacancies.

The data used in the analysis is published by the Minnesota Department of Education and appears in the staffing demographics section of the data reports and analysis portion of the department’s web site.

The Star Tribune analysis excluded schools that had a major disruption during the period covered that could have artificially influenced staffing.  Those factors include the fresh-starting of schools, the introduction of new program types, or the reopening of a school. For example, Pierre Bottineau French Immersion school is only in its second year, which accounts for its two-year average for teacher experience. Ramsey switched from a K-8 to a middle school, and Folwell switched in the opposite direction.

Most of the low-seniority schools are high in poverty, and most of the high-seniority schools are below the district average for poverty. But there are exceptions. For example, Pillsbury in northeast Minneapolis is almost 89 percent poor, but its staff average is still 16 years, or three above the district average.  But Principal Laura Cavender said that her school’s population dominated by students learning English brings a different type of poverty – she calls it situational – than the generational poverty she encountered in stints at North Side schools.

District-wide, the biggest of the five-year brackets for teacher experience is teaching sin their first five years, at 30 percent of all district teachers. The next biggest is teachers with between 16 and 20 years on the job, at 20 percent.  The smaller brackets for teachers between 6 and 15 years represents the impacts of layoffs during the period when the district was shrinking between 1998 and 2010.  

Some schools have faculties much better balanced by experience levels than others.  Some examples include South High School, Seward, Folwell, Marcy, Armatage, Sullivan, Johnson and Anwatin.  

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