The new year in shaping up as a busy one for Rebecca Gagnon in her third year on the Minneapolis school board.
The Fulton resident will serve on all but one of the board’s six committees, while taking on four external committee assignments. That’s more in each category of any board member. At least that's according to the roster that board members divvied up informally and will ratify at their Jan. 8 organizational meeting.
Her outside duties will range from sitting on a group reviewing district facility needs to the heavy lifting of sitting on the city Planning Commission, a position assigned to the school board by city charter.
Gagnon says she needs just three to five hours of sleep daily, which will help, as will the speed-reading course she once took. She’s also the only board member without other paid employment. But that’s offset by having three children who aren’t driving yet, and a husband who travels for work.
The planning duties can require mastering arcane city zoning and planning law, unless a commissioner relies on staff guidance on voting on projects pending before the commission. But Gagnon has shown herself to be the board’s most detail-oriented person, often probing staff with repeated questions at board meetings.
"I'm a big puzzle person and I like to put the puzzle pieces together," she said.
Fellow school board member Richard Mammen was only too happy to relinquish sitting through lengthy planning group meetings, citing the time commitment and his frustrations with City Hall. The upside is that the commission pays its members $35 a meeting, a not inconsiderable sum to school board members paid $13,800 a year, including expenses.
Board member Carla Bates tried to put a gloss on the job of representing the board on the commission. “You learn a lot about the city,” she said. But, she conceded, “It’s Herculean to actually be on the Planning Commission. It would take two Hercules to get things moving.”
Besides representing the board on metro and statewide school groups, Gagnon also has one prestige assignment that involves sitting on a federal advisory board that works with the U.S. Department of Education, for which she applied and was appointed by Education secretary Arne Duncan. The board makes recommendations regarding the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a testing yardstick of what students across America know.
It's possible that one of Gagnon's assignments could go away if board Ciiarman Alberto Monserrate has his way. He wondered out loud as board members discussed assignments whether it makes sense for Minneapolis to belong to the rural-dominated Minnesota School Boards Association, a trade group where Gagnon said Minneapolis and St. Paul are typically outvoted. But Carla Bates, who has represented Minneapolis to the association, said maybe it's time to work harder to win the support of association members.