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Supporters cry foul over late District 4 spending

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government Updated: November 4, 2012 - 10:37 PM

Both sides are crying foul in the waning days of the hottest Minneapolis school board election over lack of financial disclosure by groups offering independent support to District 4 candidates Josh Reimnitz and Patty Wycoff.

First it was the supporters of Reimnitz, complaining late last week about independent spending by the political arm of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.  Now it's backers of Wycoff griping about spending by a political fund linked to the 50CAN organization, a self-styled education reform group that counts the MinnCAN lobby among its offspring.

The Local 59 Political Fund, which began the year with $82,000 in hand, struck first with paid and volunteer phone bank calls, plus a mailing, on behalf of Wycoff, the federation-endorsed candidate.  Union President Lynn Nordgren said all fundraising comes from voluntary contributions from unionized teachers.

But just how much the fund spent hasn't been disclosed. Its pre-primary disclosure report to the state, reporting finances through Oct. 22, lists no independent expenditures on behalf of Wycoff.  Nordgren said that's because the bills haven't come in yet.

But the shoe was on the other foot when a mailer supporting Reimnitz began showing up in district mailboxes over the weekend, with 50CAN Action Fund footing the bill. Wycoff supporters cried foul over the unprecedented involvement in a local board race by a national group with a warchest.

Wycoff supporter Rep. Jim Davnie, who engineered the six-district scheme for electing a majority of the school board, was one of those huffing:  "I'm stunned that a national group would come in with serious fundraising and spending in an attempt to influence the outcome of such a local race. I'm also disappointed that the campaign disclosure rules that apply in this race allow this group to not reveal itself or its funders for the public to see."

MinnCAN's Nicholas Banovetz, responding for 50CAN, said the organization will file as a political fund this week with Hennepin County, within the 14-day statutory window for doing so, but won't disclose the names of donors until the required annual filing in late January.

Davnie asked if the leaders of 50CAN have ever been to Minneapolis. That's one question that's easy to answer.  50CAN lists Matthew Karmer, president of Teach For America, as its board chair.  Kramer, now living in Edina, grew up in Lowry Hill, part of District 4.

The inaugural race in a district stretching from downtown to the Isles area has taken on outsized importance this year.  That's because a Wycoff victory is seen as generally preserving the status quo in union-district contractual relations, with Wycoff not urging any changes and seeking lower class sizes instead.  Reimnitz is pushing for contract changes, such as weaker seniority rules, that he argues would bring student achievement faster.

Some union teacher have argued that the Reimnitz bid represents an attempt by local corporate interests to assert a reform agenda that is aimed at imposing strict accountability standards they maintain don't serve schools well. His spending is setting a new record in Minnesota school board campaigns, topping $37,000 so far.  Although he's disclosed donors, a sampling of those contacted Friday about their motive for giving didn't return calls. Teach for America's top Minnesota official refused to disclose the organizational affiliations of emplouees of that group who donated.       

  

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