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

Bad weather strikes Mpls schools again

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government 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.]  

MAP: Where are downtown's surface parking lots?

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 3, 2014 - 11:31 AM

The city is embarking on an effort to beautify parking lots in downtown Minneapolis. But just where are they?

We took a list of licenses from the city's business licensing department and sketched this map (below) of the licensed lots in downtown Minneapolis. These are distinct from accessory lots, often free parking for customers, and multi-story parking ramps.

Several of these lots are already poised for development. Lots owned by the Star Tribune already being taken out of service to make way for the massive redevelopment of Downtown East.

The city has 125 licenses for surface lots that can charge by the hour, day, week, month or for a special event. Most of those -- about 70, by our count -- are located in the immediate downtown area.

While most of the lots are located outside the center of downtown, they remain a pervasive element of Hennepin Avenue and Downtown East.

City ordinances include a number of requirements for surface parking lots. Here are the highlights:

(1) A landscaped yard at least seven (7) feet wide shall be provided along the public street, sidewalk or pathway, except where a greater yard is required. If a parking facility contains over one hundred (100) parking spaces, the minimum required landscaped yard shall be increased to nine (9) feet in width.

(2) Screening consisting of either a masonry wall, fence, berm or hedge or combination thereof that forms a screen three (3) feet in height and not less than sixty (60) percent opaque shall be provided, except that where areas are devoted principally to the parking or loading of trucks or commercial vehicles of more than fifteen thousand (15,000) pounds screening six (6) feet in height and not less than sixty (60) percent opaque shall be required.

(3) Not less than one (1) tree shall be provided for each twenty-five (25) linear feet or fraction thereof of parking or loading area lot frontage.

Most lots are out of compliance with these requirements. Two lots owned by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, for example, exemplify compliance and non-compliance.

The lot below features no landscaping along the sidewalk and its cars abut a wooden fence.

This lot just adjacent to the one above is strikingly different. It includes a landscaped buffer yard, tree plantings and an ornamental fence.

Baseball fields to be named for civic all-stars

Posted by: Bill McAuliffe Updated: April 4, 2014 - 7:48 PM

Three baseball fields in Minneapolis will be named for Twin Cities sporting figures.

Two  fields, funded by Major League Baseball and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, will be named for Hall of Famer and former Twin Rod Carew, and for Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman.

Another will honor Eddie Phillips, businessman and grandson of the founder of the Jay and Rose Phillips Foundation, one of Minnesota's largest philanthropies, and a generous supporter of baseball in the city. The foundation contributed $1.3 million for renovations at Farview Park in north Minneapolis, where Eddie Phillips Field will be located. The Pohlad  Family Foundation and  the Twins Community Fund contributed $800,000 to the effort.

Eddie Phillips, who had been a catcher on the Stanford University baseball team, was known in business for developing luxury consumer brands from vodka to gelato. He also engineered a $10 million donation to the Mayo Clinic for research into Alzheimer's disease, which had claimed the life of his mother, advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, also known as "Dear Abby." He died in 2011.

The park board suspended its rules Wednesday to accomplish the renamings, in part because Carew and Hartman are still living, said board President Liz Wielinski.

Rod Carew All Star Field will be located on Xcel Energy property the park board leases at 2900 NE. Marshall St. 

Sid Hartman All-Star Field will be at Northeast Park, in a part of town where Hartman, now 94 and still cranking out sports columns and appearing on radio, said he had many friends as a youngster.

The news of the field naming  came as a surprise to Hartman.

"Tell them I said 'Thank you,' " he said.

One footnote: Wielinski added that ball fields are often renovated, or moved or otherwise changed, so the process of naming them doesn't need to be as rigorous as it is for names of parks and buildings. Sid Hartman All-Star Field, for example, was originally christened 33 Field, citing the number of former Twin, All-Star and American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau. Morneau was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates last year and now plays for the Colorado Rockies.

Principal contract gives Johnson new recruiting tools

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Minneapolis Henry, Minneapolis North, Minneapolis South, Minneapolis Washburn 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.  


Sign of spring: Boat inspections on parks agenda

Posted by: Bill McAuliffe Updated: April 3, 2014 - 5:28 PM

Minneapolis Parks and Recreation workers stood sentry at boat launches for 16 hours a day from April 28 through Nov. 30 last year, looking for zebra mussels and other aquatic invasives.

In those 3,472 hours, they found zebra mussels on one sailboat (twice) and possibly on two fishing boats at Lake Harriet.

But the monitoring was worth it, said Deb Pilger, director of environmental management for the parks district.

"If these species get into our lakes, whether it’s spiny water flea, hydrilla or zebra mussels, they’re impossible to remove," Pilger said. "And with zebra mussels, there are other costs associated with managing them."

The monitoring will take on a slightly different flavor once the ice melts off the lakes this year. In addition to checking boats entering and leaving the lakes (about 4,500 last year), the workers will also act as "public information ambassadors," offering information about concessions, trails and other amenities around city lakes, Pilger said.

The park board is expected to approve the changes for the upcoming season at its meeting Wednesday.

Pilger said the monitors may not start until May 1 or even later this year, given the expectation of a late ice-out this year (and the memory of a late one last year). Last year’s experience also means they’ll work reduced hours September through November, with November bringing an on-call system for inspectors. Boaters will find launches locked, but Pilger said the district will guarantee an inspector will show up within 15 minutes of being called to open the access.

Pilger said the plan emphasizes education over enforcement, and aims to have boaters picking up on the fine points of ridding their boats of zebra mussels and milfoil. (The aquatic plant hydrilla, which Pilger mentioned, isn’t in Minnesota yet.)



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