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 follow San Francisco's lead to be 'zero waste'?

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: March 21, 2014 - 12:46 PM


Mayor Betsy Hodges advocated for Minneapolis to be a “zero waste” city during last year’s campaign, as she opposed expanding the trash-burning capacity at the county incinerator.


Thursday night, she and other local leaders met at a south Minneapolis church to consider how to make that a reality, turning toward San Francisco as a model for diverting most garbage from landfills and burners.

“We think of ourselves as being a pretty green town,” U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison told a crowd that included various council members and environmental advocates.

But, he added, just 28 percent of the city’s waste is recycled and composted – lower than the national average.

By contrast, San Francisco diverts 80 percent of its garbage from landfills, largely by requiring all residents to compost and recycle and doing extensive outreach to ensure people follow the rules. The city also bans plastic bags and restricts the sale of plastic water bottles, and requires haulers of construction waste and debris to bring materials to registered facilities that reuse and recycle them.

Addressing the crowd remotely, San Francisco waste coordinator Julie Bryant suggested that her city’s accomplishments were possible for Minneapolis, too.

“We believe any city can do what San Francisco has done and beyond which just a few focused people willing to have a zero waste vision,” said Bryant.

Bryant said the state of California required all cities to divert at least half of their waste from landfills by 2000 – or face steep fines – but that San Francisco went a step further and aimed to raise that amount to 75 percent by 2010.

She described the black, blue and green waste bins as ubiquitous around the city, and said that residents save money on their garbage bill when they throw out less. The city also works closely with its waste hauler, Recology.

“We’re on the cusp of doing something just like San Francisco has done,” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, noting that he’s pushing for legislation to increase the statewide recycling and composting goal to 75 percent.

Minneapolis has until the end of the year to produce a composting plan after the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners voted last month to drop their bid to burn more garbage at the incinerator, in the wake of opposition from City Hall.

“This isn’t just about stuff that goes in and out of a landfill, or in and ut of a garbage burner,” said Hodges of her zero waste goal. “This is about who we are as people and how we want to be as a community.”

Emergency communications director defends 911 service

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: March 19, 2014 - 5:09 PM

In the wake of reports that the city’s 911 call center is overextended, an emergency communications director told City Council members today that more employees have been hired and cross-trained to improve service.

The city's 911 staff includes 68 operators and dispatchers – in line with recommendations from a professional staffing study – and six new ones were brought on this month, said Heather Hunt, director of emergency communications. She said another six would be hired this year.

At least nine are on duty even in slow hours, and more than three-quarters have been cross-trained in both answering and dispatching calls, as part of an effort that began three years ago, Hunt told the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee.

“We are trying to get ahead of the game and with this next influx of staffing I think we’ll be able to get there,” she said.

Hunt said that a Next-Generation 911 system to be implemented next year, linking Minneapolis’ system with other emergency call centers and hospitals in the metro, will have the capability to route calls to other centers.

Karen Bailey said afterwards that she felt the hearing did not address her concerns with 911. She said her mother, Arcola Tullis, called 911 when her father Raymond Callihan was having a heart attack and was told to call back, and was later put on hold.

Callihan later died at the hospital.

“That wasn’t right,” she said, tearing up. “They didn’t show .. respect to my mom.”

Elizabeth Roether, a police and fire dispatcher, said outside council chambers that the presentation “definitely puts on a good show," but that staff are being rushed through training and at times only one or two people are answering 911 calls.

Even though Hunt says nine employees are on duty at all times, she said, many of them are doing supervisory work or dispatching, instead of taking calls.

Hey, buddy, want to buy a bridge?

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 19, 2014 - 10:02 AM

It’s 89 years old, it’s decrepit and it’s fracture critical, but hey—you could be the lucky owner of the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge.

The city of Minneapolis is accepting proposals to buy the bridge through April 30, according to a notice published this week in the State Register.

But there are catches. You have to buy the whole bridge, not one of its five deteriorating trusses. And you have to reassemble it somewhere else for transportation purposes.

Still, the Minneapolis equivalent of selling the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem.  There are other examples of bridge reuse around the city.

For example, a century-old span of the old Broadway Avenue Bridge was floated down the river’s East Channel in 1987 to connect S.E. Main Street with Nicollet Island.  Portions of the deck of the old Lowry Avenue Bridge comprise part of the wall around the city’s public works complex on Hiawatha Avenue.

Some bridges get reused in place.  For example, the Stone Arch Bridge and Bridge 9 in the central riverfront were converted from rail to bike and pedestrian use in 1994 and 2000 respectively.

The St. Anthony Parkway bridge consists of five through trusses on concrete piers.  The trusses are

fracture critical, which means they’re constructed so that if one key component of a truss fails, the entire truss goes down. The bridge is already heavily restricted for the weight of loads that are allowed to cross it, and even its sidewalks are restricted. It’s rated two on a bridge inspection scale of 100, making it the worst bridge still in use in Hennepin County.

It needs to be removed because a new bridge is being planned for the site. Construction could begin this fall.  But taking it apart won’t be easy—the bridge spans an active railyard of 24 tracks. But that worked in the city’s favor when it came to getting state help for the new bridge. After trying unsuccessfully for several sessions to gain state aid, the city switched from calling it the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge to the Northtown Rail Bridge, which apparently swayed legislators.

Teacher proposal could change how schools run

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 13, 2014 - 1:36 PM

From showing really bad teachers the door quicker to creating a new subset of schools with an emphasis on results, not how they’re achieved, the contract proposal in the hands of Minneapolis teachers could create some notable changes in how schools run.

The new Partnership Schools concept first touted by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson in a speech last May on changing how the district does business will mean big changes for participating schools.

They can get slack from the district on matters ranging from how many hours and days students and teachers spend in school to how teachers teach to state standards to how they spend their budget to how straggling students get help. They’ll even not be required to follow the district’s focused instruction curriculum. But they’ll have to meet academic performance targets to keep that flexibility.

The district plans to launch the first such school next fall when Cityview school reopens. But  No. 2 administrator Michael Goar said this week he’s still hoping the district can add another. Both reopening buildings, and existing schools with an interest in gaining greater school-level flexibility for performance standards, will be considered as potential partners.

In one example of how things could change, teachers could propose working up to 211 days annually, including some training days, compared to a norm of 196. But the district didn’t prevail on its early negotiation proposal that teachers in such schools move up the salary scale faster.

All this assumes that teachers vote to accept the contract proposal.  Some express concern about a clause would allow the district to axe a teacher it judges low-performing after just 45 days of working with a mentor to improve. The district said that now takes three to nine months. Alternatives to firing would include improving enough to stay with or without continued assistance, or shifting to another school if there’s a personality conflict or a misfit academically.

But Lynn Nordgren, president of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said she expects only two to three teachers a year to go through the expedited process. Some improve earlier in the process of mentor-guided intervention steps, while others are either counseled out of the profession or come to that decision on their own, she said.  
Another issue for some teachers is a clause that gives the district the right to early posting of teacher openings in specialties or at schools that have trouble attracting applicants. Those jobs could be filled ahead of the normal two rounds in which teachers axed for budget reasons from schools and those seeking a shift of schools interview for openings.

The district says that posting those openings early means that it has a better shot at hiring more qualified applicants before they’re hired by competing districts who can make a firm offer earlier.  The agreement commits the district and union to developing efforts to hire and keep teachers in 16 struggling schools, but doesn’t specifically offer extra pay, a possibility the district floated last summer in negotiations but teacher negotiators called degrading to schools.              

The district set a class-size target in those struggling of 18 students in grades K-3, down from 21. That’s a $2.2 million commitment, the district said.

But there are no absolutes in those or regular schools, with Goar saying the district won’t bargain class size. The revamped contract gives teacher frustrated by having extra students above the targets crammed into their classrooms during the year a lifeline to a district hotline that would need to respond within five days. But there’s no guarantee of relief.  

For a teacher in a stuffed classroom in a school without room to expand, the district said it would work with the union on adding aides, redistributing students among teachers, adding a second teacher for part of the day, or other remedies.

The district abandoned a proposal to bump the number of teaching days by four to at least 180, or four more. Instead, it’s shifting to a targeted strategy to add days selectively for struggling students at the winter and spring breaks, and over the summer, using teachers willing to be paid for their extra time. The drawback to that proposal is that attendance is optional for students.

It also didn’t prevail on a proposal that it be able to retain what it judges to be superior teachers outside their seniority order in the case of layoffs.       

Despite blackout, teacher contract details revealed

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 11, 2014 - 9:55 PM

A proposed new contract for Minneapolis teachers will allow Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson to implement her autonomy-for-accountability proposal for selected schools, but gives teaches some redress when their classes are stuffed with more students than size limits call for.

The deal also gives the district new latitude to hire teachers earlier for  hard-to-fill specialties and schools.

Neither the district nor the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has publicly disclosed the details of a tentative agreement reached 10 days ago on March 1. A summary of the proposal and selected sections were sent to teachers on Monday, and the Star Tribune obtained a copy. In contrast, St. Paul schools and teachers last month made key details public within three days of a deal.

Minneapolis teachers won’t vote on the deal until a month after it was negotiated, in contrast to 11 days in St. Paul. The Minneapolis board won’t formally vote until after teachers on April 8, but reviewed the proposal in private Tuesday.

“It is collaborative. It is progressive. It will makes a difference for students in schools,” board Chairman Richard Mammen said after the board adjourned. 

Spokesman Stan Alleyne said the district deferred to union President Lynn Nordgren’s decision to share the pact with her members before the district makes the deal public. However, the district stance is somewhat ironic in light of Johnson's complaint last fall that by seeking state mediation the union was closing the process to the public. Former City Council President Paul Ostrow told the board Tuesday he was troubled that the only detail to leak before Tuesday so far has been the 2 percent annual cost-of-of-living raises, which he called the least important part of the negotiating agenda.

The deal is already generating pushback from some teachers. Some object to a clause that would loosen work rules for teachers at Johnson’s proposed “Partnership Schools.” They could work for up to 211 days, compared to 196 now.

These schools are a key element of Johnson’s efforts to reshape the district by granting schools working under a performance contract the ability to be flexible on matters such as curriculum, testing, time on the job, budget and other key features.

The proposal doesn’t specify how many partnership schools or when but Johnson has previously spoken of allowing 20-30 percent of district schools such freedom, a few next school year and more in the following two years.

On class size, the agreement calls for district targets to be set for schools but negotiators and other teachers have complained that often those are overridden by newly arrived students. The agreement calls in some circumstances for adding extra aides or teachers to crowded classes, for shifting students among grade-level teachers and for other remedies when targets are exceeded; teachers will have streamlined ability to seek relief from the district when their class exceeds the target.

For struggling schools, the district committed to a target of 18 students per K-3 grade classroom, down from the current 21. That will lessen a teacher’s workload, but it’s above the 13- to 17-student class size  found in landmark Tennessee research to exert a marked improvement in primary grade student performance.

Those high-priority schools and hard-to-fill specialties would get an early hiring round designed to make the district more competitive for attracting talent. The agreement also cuts the number of teachers interviewed for each opening.

The agreement would also speed the process for dealing with struggling teachers through a mentored 45-day performance plan. It would also blend two time-consuming processes that teachers use to develop professionally and focus on student progress.

The agreement also calls for the district and union to jointly form a task force to sift through the standardized tests given students with an eye toward whether some can be dropped. It's suposed to make initial recommendaitons by the end of June for next school year. Teachers have complained about the amount of class time lost to outside testing, and some parents are opting their children out of tests.

The district hasn't yet made a cost estimate for the proposed pact. Besides the twin 2  percent pay hikes this year and next, many teachers are also eligible for raises based on longevity and college credits, while the district also increased its family health insurance contribution. The 2011-2013 contract increased district costs by almost 6.4 percent over a two-year period.



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