There's a leadership contest brewing for chair of the Minneapolis school board now that Tracine Asberry and Richard Mammen have announced they'll seek the post.
Current Chair Alberto Monserrate said he'll not seek a third year as chair.
Asberry, a former teacher, is completing her first year on the board. Monserrate was elected chair in his second year on the board, but that was after serving as vice chair and coming in with a crop of four new board members. She has been outspoken in advocating for more changes in district policies to promote better racial equity
Mammen is completing his third year on the board, and was elected city-wide, while Asberry was elected from a southwest Minneapolis district. Mammen is a longtime youth worker who lists himself as co-president of a nonprofit called Change Inc.
The initial betting is on Mammen, who claims he has the votes, to prevail. He's a lifelong Minneapolitan with wide contacts in the government and nonprofit sectors. Asberry has been a teacher in Minneapolis, an adjunct college instructorm and holds a doctorate in pedagogy.
Mammen declared his intent to become chair when he was elected in 2010, and had spoken with seven board members before publicly declaring his candidacy on Tuesday. Asberry's announcement surprised her coleagues.
The job of chair involves helping to shape its announal calendar and monthly agendas, chairing board meetings (a task that limits participation in substantive debates), and representing the board in public and in responding to correspondence addressed to all board members. As the owner of a media company, he's also been responsive to news reporters. Asberry hasn't returned reporter calls.
In the only other contested post, Rebecca Gagnon is seeking a second year as treasurer, while Carla Bates, whom Gagnon defeated for the job a year ago, also is seeking it.
A sweeping plan designed to handle booming enrollment in Minneapolis schools over the next five years goes before the school board for a vote Tuesday evening, meaning changes for almost a third of district students.
The plan arrives back at the board with two final changes from the revised version the board got last month:
• A competitive-entry elementary program for advanced students proposed for the Wilder building on Chicago Avenue has been dropped, but an undefined pre-kindergarden to fifth grade program would open there in 2015.
• A middle school in another portion of that building has also been scrapped in favor of expanding Sanford Middle School in 2016. The district previously backed off a shift opposed by some parents of middle-school Spanish immersion students from Anwatin Middle School to Wilder.
The proposal represents the biggest change since the district’s massive restructuring of attendance patterns in 2009, when it was still reacting to declining enrollment.
It’s designed to accommodate the 3,400 students the district projects it will add by 2017, and is aimed at creating some programs to attract students back from charter and other schools. Some of the changes respond to parent feedback in two rounds of community meetings held since the latest proposal was unveiled in September.
Some of those proposed changes include expanding the Spanish immersion program to a third elementary school at Sheridan (2015) and to Roosevelt High School, adding a second magnet at North High School (2015) focused on technical fields, possible later addition of an arts-technical program at Sanford and Roosevelt, and more early childhood programs.
The proposal affects about 10,500 students, although many won’t see much change. Fewer than 500 would shift buildings involuntarily, mainly the move of older special education students in the Transition Plus program to the district-owned former Brown Institute building at Hi-Lake (2015), and the move of a French immersion program to the Cityview building (2015). Some students will follow different paths from elementary through middle and high schools, such as the addition of Roosevelt for Spanish immersion students (2014). Most downtown-area students starting school will be routed to reopened Webster (2015) school and then Northeast Middle and Edison High schools, rather than heading to Southwest High School. Still others will see new or expanded programs in their buildings, such as the proposed fourfold increase in classrooms at Sullivan and Andersen (2014) for students new to the country who don’t speak English. Sanford’s new gym would allow existing gyms to be converted to classrooms.
Overall, the proposal adds 1,400 more seats than the anticipated enrollment, more than half of those in the district’s north and northeast zone. Some parents there has been unhappy about unclear pathways and programs in the proposal. Adding more seats represents an effort to meet the needs of students through a variety of academic approaches, said LeAnn Dow, the district’s project manager.
The proposal handles the biggest enrollment imbalance in the district’s southwest zone by expanding Southwest (450 students) for 2016, sharing of classes at adjacent Ramsey Middle and Washburn High schools (450) starting in 2015, shifting downtown students to northeast (300) and the new Wilder preK-5 school (450). The Wilder program will be defined with parents in the feeder area once that is defined, Dow said.
Major points in the proposal: Expansion of Southwest, Sanford, Seward Montessori (2016); reopening of Franklin Middle (2015), Cityview, Webster and an expanded Cooper school (2017); new early childhood programs at Wilder, Webster, North and Davis Center; eventual addition of arts-technical programs at Sanford and Roosevelt; addition of all-day kindergarten at five southwest schools without it; bus passes for students from outside Minneapolis willing to open enroll in 2014 to high-poverty schools; locating one of Harvest Prep’s sister charter schools at Lincoln building (2014).
The proposal defers to 2017 the idea of a college prep or audition-based arts high school, which some parents felt would weaken existing high school arts programs. A proposal to open a school that would help immigrant students through their college years was also deferred.
The conservative Freedom Foundation of Minnesota is calling on Gov. Mark Dayton to propose a change in state public employee labor law to require that mediated talks be open.
The foundation stated: "The minutiae of collective bargaining negotiations may seem unlikely to provide riveting drama, but the stakes are very high for parents, students, taxpayers, and the public education system."
The matter hasn't been on Dayton's radar and it currently doesn't have a position on the issue, said Bob Hume, Dayton's deputy chief of staff. Prospects for such a proposal would appear doubtful in a DFL-controlled Legislature. State mediators have closed mediation sessions since at least 1984, according to Josh Tilsen, the state commissioner of mediation services.
The state's Public Employment Labor Relation Act requires that labor contract negotiations for public employees be held in public, except that mediated sessions may be closed at the discretion of the mediation commissioner. The bureau supplies mediators to try to help employers and the unions representing their workers to reach agreement in reaching contracts or resolving grievances.
The bureau's policy under governors of three parties has been to close public employer negotiations after the entry of a mediator. Tilsen said he feels that makes it easier to reach agreement because there is less posturing to the public. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson criticized the union's mediation request after about a dozen public face-to-face sessions with district negotiators. Federation President Lynn Nordgren said she believes that a mediator helps both sides make progress faster.
But foundation Vice President Jonathan Blake calls that argument condescending and said that under the same rationale, all negotiations would be closed.
The closure of negotiations has frustrated those who style themselves school reformers, who want to be able to follow district proposals to change the teacher contract, and minority advocates who want to see changes aimed at reducing the racial achievement gap. They argue that the union wants to be outside public srutiny when it resists district proposals for contract changes.
The district is proposing to create new partnership schools, where there's more teacher leadership and more flexibility in exchange for accountability. It also wants to be able to fill openings earlier to hire the best outside candidates, and to offer incentives to teachers to go to and remain at low-performing schools, where teachers often have less experience.
(Photo: Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.)
With a cost that nearly tripled from conception to opening day, the Lowry Avenue Bridge may be a little rich for some folks' blood at $104 million, but it's drawing praise from one industry publication.
Roads and Bridges magazine named the crossing that opened last year as one of the top 10 new bridges nationally. The Illinois-based publication, which uses engineering difficulty as its prime criterion, labeled the span over the Mississippi River eye-catching.
The magazine noted the bridge's long-lasting, color-shifting LED lights and an underground sand filter to treat water running off the bridge as notable features, along with fitting it into a tight footprint.
The bridge has built for Hennepin County and reopened a crossing that was closed due to a shifting pier in 2008, and demolished a year later.
A Minneapolis school board member apologized Wednesday for how she worded comments regarding Southwest students while she argued at a board meeting last week against expanding the school.
"Building how many more classrooms for high school, when 50 percent, when the most important kids we want to invest in aren't there," Carla Bates said in part, prompting some pushback from Southwest parents.
"I went back to my statement and went, 'wow.!" Bates said after issuing a statement clarifying her intent. She said she apologized because she didn't want the reaction to how she made her point to undermine the legitimacy of her arguments against the expansion proposal.
"I don't want to become a lightning rod for, "see, the district really doesn't like Southwest'" Bates said in an interview.
"I first of all want to assure everyone that I am a strong advocate for all our children in all parts of the city," she said.
Southwest, which has the smallest share of low-income students among the district's seven big high schools, leads those schools in graduation rate, ACT scores, and going on to college. The school enrolled a count of 1,662 students, and district administrators proposed a 450-student addition to the school at an very preliminary estimated cost of $47 million. Some parents also have questioned that approach to handling an expected enrollment bulge in southwest Minneapolis
Bates argued that investment in added school space doesn't make sense when so much learning is shifting online. She also argued that Washburn is a more appropriate site for an addition because of its more central location and the size of the campus it shares with Ramsey Middle School. And she suggested that improvements at Roosevelt High School, which have yet to show up in the district's statistical measures of performance, will draw more students there. "I think Roosevelt is poised to become one of the best schools in the city," she said. That might require redrawing the Washburn-Southwest boundary, she added in an interview, but they could be phased in.
Bates cited several factors in an interview that make her optimistic about Roosevelt;good leadership, engaged staff, a strong IB with diverse composition.
"I think that putting $40 million at Southwest is looking backward instead of looking forward," Bates said at the board meeting. "I'm very concerned, very very very concerned, about the Southwest proposal because of the money, because of the location of the school, because of how secondary [school] is changing." .
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