Alberto Monserrate

Alberto Monserrate

He’s the current school board chair in Minneapolis and he wants to stay in that position again next year, but that isn’t stopping Alberto Monserrate from voting against the district’s property tax levy.

Monserrate cast the lone board vote against the 2013 school levy this month, repeating his stance in his first year on the board. The first-term board member vowed to keep doing so until the public feels like it’s getting more for its money.

He spoke long and passionately at the board’s finance committee recently about what he’s hearing from the public and expanded on that in a subsequent interview.
It’s not just the anti-tax crowd that spoke last month at the board’s levy hearing. It’s also the skepticism he’s hearing in the voices of those who define themselves as progressives – those who define themselves as supporters of public education and the levy referendum but who are telling him they’re not getting their money's worth from paying more school taxes.

Monserrate, who runs a Latino-oriented media company, said he’s out of patience waiting for the district to develop a strategy to counter that skepticism. “We need to sell to the public that they are getting good value,” he said.

That involves responding to criticisms and building a case that the district is taking steps to educate the students it isn’t reaching. He called for stronger steps to shift money to schools where those students are concentrated, as San Francisco and other districts have done to attack the achievement gap.

The criticisms that Monserrate hears most frequently mention the district’s executive pay raise snafu of 2011, the construction of a new headquarters that opened in 2012, and the size of the central administrative staff.  There are also comparisons with St. Paul, which has more pupils but spends less on each. Monserrate wants the district to address those lingering sores by checking the facts and making its case.

He cited St. Paul’s approval of a levy referendum, and expressed doubt that Minneapolis could do the same until it shows better results and tells its story better.