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.
Arson investigators are asking for the public's help in solving three arson cases in 21 days in the McKinley neighborhood of north Minneapolis.
The most recent fire lit a garage at Tuesday evening, and was the second involving a garage, police said in appealing for tips.. The third fire was set at the rear of a house in the early hours Tuesday. Investigators said that another garage fire remains unsolved in the neighborhood from November. Damage estimates were not immediately available.
The fires for which locations have been reported cluster near 33rd and Bryant Avenues N.
Police asked people with information on the fires to call Sgrt. Sean McKenna at 612-673-3389 or the arson hotline at 1-800-723-2020.
Minneapolis South has long had a reputation as a place of academic ferment, both in the classroom and sometimes inter-culturally.
It’s teachers like Corinth Matera who are the yeast in that ferment. Her work has now won her one of five anti-racism citations given this year through the St. Paul Foundation’s Facing Race awards.
Matera has taught English for 14 years at South, a school that combines students from open school, liberal arts and Indian backgrounds.
That’s particularly apt, given that she was cited for a unit she has led for three years as part of the team-taught Advanced Placement English curriculum. The course focuses on language and composition, but her unit of eight to nine weeks focuses on how to construct a researched argument. She approaches that in a culturally relevant way.
Students jointly are exposed to common sources, but then are asked to built an argument responding to this question: What land reparations, if any, should the Dakota receive from the state of Minnesota?
Students visit Fort Snelling, which played a role in the 1862 Dakota conflict. They are exposed to the book “What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland,” authored by Dakota activist Waziyatawin, and she visited the class. So did Minnesota History Center director Dan Spock, parent of a South student. “They had the opportunity to hear from these two people with vastly different views and great knowledge,” Matera said.
Some students are inspired to expand their research. Others bridle at the notion of reparations, which for Matera is not as important as whether they can support that position with a well-researched point of view. “The way the course is structured gives students to opportunity to structure their own argument,” she said.
It’s not like she lacks strong feelings on education and racism. “We have an educational system that historically and currently does not serve all populations equally,” she said. She’s driven to be part of the solution, a passion she said that stems from an upbringing “observing the racial segregation and inequities in the small Kentucky town I grew up in and learning from my family how important it is to be part of positive change in one's community.”
The student research also got wider exposure within the school. It was shared with an AP U.S. history course, and the authors of those papers led a panel discussion for their history course peers. When Waziyatawin spoke to her students, studens in the native All Nations program not already in the class were invited to hear her. “It has put their history at the center in a course where it may not have been at the center. For non-native students, it has helped them to become more aware.”
Waziyatawin was impressed enough with the students work that she was the one who nominated Matera in the foundation’s annual recognition of educators making extra efforts to address racism.
Matera is also in her seventh year of advising the student newspaper at South. She’s been active in an outside nonprofit called the Women's Prison Book Project since about 1998. The all-volunteer collective sends free books to women in prison all over the country.
They sat silently as the school board held a planning retreat Wednesday evening, but out in the hallway some 46 students, staff and parents from Washburn High School had plenty to say about the ouster of Principal Carol Markham-Cousins
Many wore Miller orange and blue. Some held cutouts displaying the face of Markham-Cousins. Among them was the principal's husband, Rick.
The students, many of them active in the arts, offered powerful endorsements of Markham-Cousins's influence on their schooling.
Senior Aaliyah Gary recalled Markham-Cousins asking students if they needed tutoring help and pushing her not to drop a physics class she was struggling with. "Without that, I wouldn't;t be graduating," she said.
Freshman Kavon Wilborn felt an instant bond with Markham-Cousins. "Her passion and dedication to students is something unusual," she said.
Markham-Cousins was removed by district administrators after a week of protests aimed at keeping the job of Athletic Director Daniel Pratt, who was popular among the school's athletes. After she was accused of using intimidation tactics by a student leader of those protests, the district acted, saying it wanted to calm the school.
But students supporting her said their take on Markham-Cousins deserved a listen before she was replaced. "It happened so abruptly that it strikes a certain level of fear into me," said junior Robert Jackson. He cited himself as an example of a student boosted by exposure to the arts. Markham-Cousins recruited a staff that elevated the school's theater, music and other arts programs. Before her, the school went 17 years without a student play, Dean Marylynn Boone said.
Boone, one staffer willing to speak by name, said the quick removal left students wondering how a leader can be removed in the face of accusations without an investigation. Antoine Duke, a 2011 graduate, said the absence of process in the removal of a principal is notable in a district when process is paramount.
"She was removed and the reasons weren't made clear and that's an injustice," said sub teacher Alissa Paris, who countered the district's rationale for removing the principal by arguing that removing her was more disruptive than her presence. "We were blindsided and we're not happy with it," she said.
The views of those attending weren't universally held at Washburn. Some parents and teachers felt that Markham-Cousins was arbitrary, didn't listen to input and refused to adapt her pedagogical approach to the school's changing demographics.
The board only takes public testimony at certain designated times during its official meetings. But the Washburn advocates had a few minutes to mingle with board members during a bathroom break.
But supporters like parent Cindy Stuart were left feeling shortchanged: "I think it's a travesty they have sent her away and not recognized the good that she's done."
Athletic departments and student activity accounts are headed for some increased scrutiny from the auditor at Minneapolis Public Schools.
A deeper look at spending and financial controls for both areas is due by June 30, the school board's Audit Committee was told Wednesday.
"We are going to look at athletics first," Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty told the panel. "It's a timely thing for us to do for a whole lot of reasons."
The board was given a higher level review of athletic finances last summer by a contracted auditor. That's prompting the deeper look by the same firm.
That means that the matter of athletic finances was under scrutiny before questions were raised recently about procedures used to try to order a Washburn athletic field scoreboard, one example of where district officials say proper purchasing procedures weren't followed.
But the issues go well beyond Washburn, Doty said, and they need to be corrected. "I do believe there's been some mismanagement. I do believe there's been a lot of inconsistency," Doty said.
But when audit Chair Richard Mammen added that he'd heard rumors of kickbacks, Doty said he's found no hints so far of that.
He said that athletic directors at high schools tend to create processes that work for them but don't follow district procedures. Another issue is caused by the co-mingling of district funds and those raised by groups such as booster clubs, he said.
"There are issues that need to be corrected," Doty said.
Afterward, he said the Washburn issues are an example of lack of communication over policy and the purchase effort for the scoreboard wasn't consistent with policy. Doty said tha athletic department review will cover not only finances, but operations, structure, personnel, and processes.
John Washington retired as district athletic director last fall, and the district last week named former Gopher basketball player Trent Tucker as his successor.
The district's auditor said in a review of student activity accounts for last school year that the district hadn't established procedures to assure that all cash collections are recorded, and so limited its audit accordingly.
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