This could have been a story about how the Minneapolis School District was prevented from demolishing one of its shuttered schools and wound up better than a million dollars richer.
Instead, the school board this week got a $1.175 million offer for Shingle Creek school, and said no thanks.
That leaves the district with a school at 5034 Oliver Av. N. that it doesn’t want, and would have to pay an estimated $280,000 to demolish.
What was the board thinking when it turned down the offer on a lopsided vote?
Board member Kim Ellison said she was concerned that the staff-recommended sale to Charter School Property Solutions could open the door to a poor-quality charter school moving in. The Nevada-based developer acts as the middleman for charter or private schools seeking a facility to buy or build, according to its web site.
“I need to have a high-performing school,” Ellison said afterward. She said she’s also working with the neighborhood group to set up a meeting, as it requested. That part of the normal process got skipped because the developer put a deadline of last Tuesday’s meeting on its offer. Normally, the board receives a recommendation at one meeting and votes at the next.
The neighborhood group of the same name has opposed demolition of the school. Last year, the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission voted to deny a demolition permit for the school. That was overturned in a district appeal to the City Council, but that was stayed for six months during which the district was to market the school. That’s what produced the offer.
The one-story school is 55 years old, and is without ductwork that was removed along with asbestos after the school closed in 2007. It’s the sole example in the Mill City of a 1950s design concept in which clusters of classrooms were linked by enclosed walkways. It’s also the city’s first example of a school location chosen collaboratively with park officials to take advantage of a nearby park. The school also played a role in desegregating schools in the late 1960s, when it received the largest shifts of black students.
The city marketed the building without success several years ago. “I was surprised to see an offer emerged at that price,” Mark Bollinger, the district’s chief administrative officer, said. But the spurned buyer put a deadline on its offer because of the lead time needed to move a school there by the time school starts. Larry Rieder, its president, predicted in an e-mail that the school will remain empty for another year.
“No school is going to buy the property in mid-year. We like the property and may take another run at it next year,” he wrote. That assumes that it’s still standing, of course.
Whether you're a driver or a cyclist, the section of West River Parkway lying below the old St. Mary's Hospital is arguably the worst parkway segment in the city.
Southbound drivers have been known to shift into the oncoming lane to avoid the plethora of potholes. The surface has been patched so many times that the jolting can leave a cyclist feeling scatter-brained.
But help is on the way. Starting April 29, the parkway will close for five weeks between S. 4th Street and Franklin Avenue for renovation.
Crews will mill the badly deteriorated parkway a full seven inches deep, and then replace the road surface. Preliminary wore to replace some curbing and concrete crosswalks and adjust manhole heights is already causing some lane closures for parkway users.
'They'll love it when it's done," said Mike Kennedy, the city's street maintenance supervisor.
The work is part of a long-term program of parkway paving done for the Park Board by the city's Department of Public Works. The budget is $500,000 annually, and it's intended to provide a 20-year fix.. In some cases, maintenance workers need mill down only the top two inches of asphalt. But in this case, they're going down a full seven inches, which may take them into virgin soil.
That's based on what Kennedy said that crews have found in other parkway locations. The parkways, built in the 1970s, were supposed to have seven inches of paving over a gravel base. But often that's not what crews are finding, according to Kennedy. Good road building practice lays paving atop a thick base of gravel so that roadway subsurfaces can drain. That keeps the freeze-thaw cycle from heaving pavement. It's particulrly surprising that that such a base is absent given that some sections of parkways run on unstable peaty soils near lakes or swamps.
Curious, we contacted Jeff Spartz, a park commissioner for part of the '70s, and an advocate for preventive maintenance. "That is a surprise to me," Spartz said, when informed of Kennedy's findings. "That explains why that thing is so bad."
Spartz recently drove the section slated for repairs. "It was a frightmare," he said. "No one was going over the speed limit, I can assure you of that." He noted that the payoff from preventive maintenance is often 20-30 years down the road, too long a horizon to be a priority for many politicians.
In case you're among those who wondered why the sections north and south of the one scheduled for this year's work were done last year while this far worse section was left untouched, there's a logic explained by Park Commissioner Scott Vreeland. Metro storm tunnel work where S. 4th meets the parkway meant heavy equipment was using the adjacent parkway into the fall, so it didn't make sense to risk that new paving would get damaged, he said.
Embattled Carol Markham-Cousins is out as principal of Washburn High School, the school district announced Thursday.
The decision by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson was relayed to school board members Wednesday night, and announced Thursday by the district after word leaked out. She'll remain in the district in an unspecified role, spokesman Stan Alleyne said.
Alleyne also confirmed that an investigation involving Markham-Cousins is underway, although state law prohibits disclosure of more specifics this stage.
Former Southwest High School Principal Robert McCauley will run Washburn until an interim principal is named to finish the school year, Alleyne said. A community process will begin later this spring to search for a new principal for the school.
Alleyne read this statement: "Events over this current year have distracted from the learning environment at Washburn. We recognize that Ms. Markham-Cousins has been a passionate advocate for students and families, and she did a particularly great job of leading the turnaround of Washburn. But the administration also recognizes that a change in leadership is necessary now to restore the school’s effective learning.”
Markham-Cousins was hired in 2007 to shape up the Tangletown school in a fresh-start process in which many teachers were replaced. She brought passion for the success of students who might get overlooked, but ran into headwinds from some parents who sought more rigorous classes for advanced students.
But the end came in her sixth year of leading the school when she became the target of student and alumni ire. That arose when the district disclosed that school Athletic Director Dan Pratt, who is popular with many students, was the subject of an investigation for a "private personnel matter."
Although few details of that investigation are known, internal e-mails obtained earlier this week made clear that Markham-Cousins and Pratt differed over issues related to the installation of a new scoreboard.
Students organized on Facebook for a walkout that drew close to 200 students midway through the day on Monday. On Tuesday, a leader of that walkout, star athlete Jamison Whiting, said Markham-Cousins and other administrators used coercive tactics to force him to abort an in-school protest. That prompted an in-school sit-in on Wednesday in hallways near the main office.
Supporters of both Whiting and Pratt turned their fire on Markham-Cousins although Alleyne said the personnel matter involving Pratt was handled by the central administration. One potential reason that the district is investigating Markham-Cousins is the assertion by Whiting that he was told by her that he couldn't leave an administrator's office until he agreed to call off a protest.
Board member Rebecca Gagnon said that the testimony to the board Tuesday by Whiting and others was a matter of concern. “You have to investigate. Kids are dramatic and so are adults," she said.
Added board member Hussein Samatar, “It is shocking to me because we have not been briefed that this decision was coming."
This week’s protests at Washburn High School morphed Wednesday from support of an athletic director to a challenge to the school administration and backing for a star athlete.
Student shortly after noon conducted a large-scale hallway sit-in near the school’s main office and entrance. One organizer, senior Ben Simpson, estimated that one-quarter of the school’s enrollment of 1,195 students took part in the sit-in. Many left for afternoon classes, but students said at least 50 students remained until the 3 p.m dismissal.
The week began with a show of student support via a walkout organized by senior Jamison Whiting, a star athlete, in support of Dan Pratt, the school’s athletic director. The district said he is being investigated for a “private personnel matter,” but that he has not been disciplined. That’s about all the district is permitted to say at this stage under the state data practices law.
Whiting then went before the school board Tuesday night to say that school administrators used intimidating tactics to force him to drop a plan for a short in-school standing protest earlier that day. He said he was told he couldn’t leave an administrator’s office unless he dropped that plan. Others appeared at the board meeting to support Pratt or criticize Markham-Cousins. who is in her sixth year at Washburn..
Students met after the board meeting to plan Wednesday’s sit-in, prompted in part by anger at what they see as strong-arm tactics by Principal Carol Markham-Cousins aimed at Whiting.
Simpson. a soccer team captain, said the protest has taken on larger goals than saving Pratt’s job. He said that Markham-Cousins has lost the confidence of students and said that a number of teachers have confided their support for the stance by students. He said that staff was accommodating of Wednesday’s protest, despite being required to give participating students unexcused absences that kept them from after-school activities.
Markham-Cousins, who has steadfastly refused to comment on the issues, was away from the school for the day for previously planned meetings. The school took no action against the protest, other than to announce that students faced consequences if they posted photos of it on social media sites.
“We aren’t going to let our principal or anyone else take away our First Amendment rights,” Simpson said by phone from the protest. “We just can’t let this slide — threatening a student. Are we 10-year-olds again?”
“We’re just not in support of our principal. As a principal, if you don’t have the support of your student body,” that’s a bad sign, he said.
Two students interviewed after school, Heather Markun-Heard and Victoria Turcios, agreed that Pratt’s character is such that if he’d done something wrong, he’d own up to it. Both noted a contradiction between public support by Markham-Cousins for student protest rights on Monday and the actions Whiting described to cub his Tuesday protest.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib
By STEVE BRANDT, Staff Writer
Hundreds of students poured out of Washburn High School early Monday afternoon in support of embattled school Athletic Director Dan Pratt.
They were joined by parents and alumi on the school's new outdoor synthetic athletic field.
"All we're saying is this - let the facts come out," said Dave Arundel, a member of the school's athletic Hall of Fame who graduated in 1970. "What did Dan Pratt do that was so wrong or is this a vendetta?"
Pratt had supported the district's efforts to raise money for the field and led efforts to raise funds for its score board, which has not been put up.
Principal Carol Markham-Cousins, who students and parents have cast as the villain in the dispute, said she couldn’t comment on specifics. But she added, “I think people need to be able to express themselves.”
District spokesman Stan Alleyne said that although students say that Pratt has been fired, no discipline has been imposed against him. The district has confirmed that Pratt’s actions are being investigated in a “private personnel matter.”
The group that gathered Monday disbanded in less than an hour of the walkout.
The district issued a statement Sunday evening that said in part: "decisions related to Mr. Pratt’s employment with MPS have been and continue to be made by the school district, not by Washburn Principal Markham-Cousins or other school staff members. The planned demonstration in support of Mr. Pratt will not have any bearing on the outcome(s) of the private personnel matter."
Students and others involved with Washburn athletics said the issue involves whether Pratt obtained proper approvals for the scoreboard that was to be installed when the athletic field was renovated.
Markham-Cousins told parents Friday that the school would be under a code yellow alert Monday because of the walkout. In the voice mail to parents, she said that “many rumors and inaccuracies” have been posted on social media about the situation but did not respond to a Star Tribune offer made through spokeswoman Rachel Hicks to discuss them. Pratt also has not responded to attempts to contact him.
On Friday, Hicks said students who leave the school Monday will not be allowed to return, and students who stay but miss a class period will be considered unexcused absences. In both cases, they won’t be able to participate in after-school activities, the district said. Washburn has two baseball games and a tennis match on its schedule Monday.
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