Education and crime are top priorities among Minneapolis residents two months before the city’s most contentious mayoral election in a generation, according to a poll conducted for the Star Tribune.

The findings illustrate why many of the most active candidates have spent weeks laying out education plans, despite City Hall’s lack of direct control over the city’s independent school system.

About 27 percent of respondents in a poll of 800 likely Minneapolis voters said education was the most important issue facing the city. Twenty-four percent said it was crime, while another 17 percent answered property taxes. The other choices given to respondents were affordable housing, transportation, racial disparities and police misconduct.

The poll, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research from Sept. 8-10, has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Poll respondent John Newman, a retiree who lives on the northern edge of Lake Calhoun, called education increasingly important as the demographics of the city change.

“I’m extremely proud of our state and we’re number one or two in so many great things, [but] we’re also well up there in the disparity between the educational attainments of minorities vs. the remainder,” he said. “Our future, more and more, is going to depend on minorities. So to me, education is really critical.”

Newman said he supports mayoral candidate Mark Andrew, but feels that the mayor’s race is largely a separate issue from education.

Residents are giving priority to the city’s schools as a problem after the federal No Child Left Behind law and a barrage of publicity by self-styled reformers has spotlighted the district’s achievement gap. Fewer than half of the district’s students graduate from high school within four years, and academic skills lag for many of the district’s minority students. The situation has prompted a defection of students to charter schools, some of which are demonstrating better results than the district has achieved despite trying a number of strategies to close the gap.

Julie Madden, a financial manager at the Minnesota Adoption Resource Network, said she would like to see more vocational training in high schools. Unlike Newman, she thinks the mayor’s office could have an effect.

“I think that the mayor could use connections with labor unions and corporations to beef up the vocational part of education for high schools,” Madden said.

Despite the high priority on education, people were wary of giving the mayor more control over schools. A sizable majority — 68 percent — said the city’s independent school board should remain entirely elected, rather than granting the mayor appointment authority.

The mayoral campaign’s focus on better schooling was highlighted last month when three top candidates held separate news conferences to explain their education plans. Candidates say there is plenty to be done from the mayor’s office to improve school performance. Their platforms include creating a privately funded education trust, improving after-school programming and expanding a city initiative that aids expecting and new parents.

People who had attended high school but did not graduate felt the strongest about education, with 59 percent saying it was the city’s most important issue. Respondents making more than $200,000 are more concerned with property taxes and people over 65 were more concerned with crime. Thirty-seven percent of top earners said property taxes was their No. 1 priority.

Unlike education, crime has not played a significant role on the campaign trail to date. Mayoral candidates have been more focused on racial disparities — a top priority for just 9 percent of respondents — and transportation and police misconduct, both of which polled even lower.

But despite recent incidents of violence downtown, overall attitudes about downtown crime are positive. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they felt “very safe” or “somewhat safe” downtown. Women felt much safer than men, with 81 percent reporting feeling “very safe” or “somewhat safe,” compared to 62 percent for men.


Staff writer Steve Brandt contributed to this report.