What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Posts about Politics and government

Cargill gives MPS, nonprofit ally $4.16 million

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 16, 2014 - 4:13 PM

Cargill Foundation is sinking $4.16 million into Minneapolis schools and its nonprofit partner for technical, college and career readiness, and food-service efforts, the district and AchieveMpls announced Monday.

Most of the money will be structured as a three-year grant, but the food service money will be a one-time donation.

The grant provides $1.64 million for expanding science technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs; $1.3 million for the district’s college-readiness program aimed at low-income middle and high school students; and $940,000 to Achieve for the college and career centers it operates in district high schools. The food-service grant is for $270,000.

The college and career money and the college-readiness money are continuation grants, but the STEM money represents a $600,000 expansion of Cargill’s funding for that area, according to Kristi Pearson, development director for Achieve.  “STEM is of real interest to Cargill,” she said.

The food service money is helping to pay for changes in the district Nutrition Center as it switches operations to serve fresher, less-processed food. It will pay for a batch chiller-cook tank and a large walk-in cooler.

According to Achieve, Cargill Foundation has given $12 million for district programs in the past 10 years, making it the district's largest corporate funder. 

District names Aponte to head South High

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 13, 2014 - 5:35 PM

The district is reaching into the ranks of South High School parents to fill a long-open principal post at the school.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson Friday announced the appointment of Ray Aponte, who is a South parent two times over as well as an experienced elementary and middle grades principal in several district schools.

The timing of the appointment means that the district wil be filling a vacancy it created just before the school year began with an appointment made just after students and teachers have finished the school year. The appointment was made about a month after the district's previously announced timetable, in part because additional candidates were interviewed.

The appointment fills the second major hole in the district's principal ranks, the other being the naming of Rhonda Dean as Washburn High School principal last month. The district still has 10 other principal jobs it needs to fill, several of them vacancies created recently by promoting principals to district administrative posts.

Aponte has been principal at Northrop Environmental Learning Center, a prekindergarten-8 school cited this school year by the Minnesota Department of Education for its academic record. He spent 10 years at Jefferson preK-8, and also has been a principal at Andersen pre-K-8 and Waite Park preK-5 schools. He has also been assistant principal at Northeast Middle School and Sheridan preK-5.

Aponte has a son who just graduated from the high school, and a daughter who will be a junior next school year. He has a reputation as a principal who interacts eaily with students. According ot the district, he was named volunteer of the year by the city's park system in 2003.

The district created the South vacancy by elevating former principal Cecilia Saddler to associate superintendent. Willarene Beasley served as South's interim principal.

A piece of river history is washing away

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 12, 2014 - 5:49 PM

A little piece of early Minneapolis history is closer to vanishing now that one of two remaining piers of the long-gone Tenth Avenue Bridge has collapsed.

The pier that’s long stuck out of the Mississippi River just downstream from the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge is now down to a nub of stone, presumably undercut by riverine erosion that’s been eating at the pier base for several years, with this year's high flows contributing. One pier remains on the river’s east bank.

The relatively light-duty bridge carried pedestrians, horse-drawn wagons and later cars and a streetcar line across the river between 6th Avenue SE and 10th Av. S. on the downtown side. It was built in 1874, closed to traffic in 1934 and sold for scrap for the war effort in 1943, according to the excellent bridge reference guide maintained by John A. Weeks III.

The bridge also played a prominent role in Minneapolis history at a time when bridges were few and workers walked from jobs on one bank to housing on the other.

The crossing was near the site of one of the three original bridges built in Minneapolis, two of which washed away in 1859, according to Weeks.  That left only a single l crossing that spanned Nicollet Island, where today’s Father Louis Hennepin Bridge stands.

According to Weeks, when the older St. Anthony merged with youthful  Minneapolis in 1872, part of the deal was that the combined city would erect new bridges at both Plymouth Avenue and 10th Avenue, at a cost that amounted to $230,000.

The bridge had stone piers that held an iron truss with a deck roughly 60 feet above the river. Weeks estimated the length at 1,100 feet. The bridge was closed eventually because it wasn’t designed to stand up to motor vehicles. By then, the sturdier Third Avenue Bridge and Tenth Avenue Bridge bridges had been added upstream and downstream.  Confusingly, the new Tenth Avenue Bridge served 10th Avenue SE on the East Bank, while the older Tenth Avenue Bridge served the street of the same name on the downtown side.

The pier that collapsed has also provided spectator interest in recent years.  Several years ago, a Canada goose nested atop the perhaps 30-foot-high pier, leading bridge walkers to speculate how well the goslings would make their maiden flight to the river below.  One day they were gone, presumably having navigated safely.

A 2011 column by river-area resident Lisa Peters noted the pier was listing, and invited guesses on when it would collapse.

Now one vestige on Minneapolis history is close to washing away.

Photos: Before photo from 2011 by Lisa Peters, after photo from 2014 by Eric Roper. Above, 1905 photo of Tenth Avenue Bridge looking toward downtown from Minnesota Historical Society.

District focuses spending on academic needs

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 10, 2014 - 8:25 PM

Minneapolis schools will increase spending by 6.3 percent in the budget year starting July 1, with major chunks going for lower class sizes in the district’s worst-performing schools, to expand specialized classrooms for recent immigrants and to build the district’s math and reading teaching.

The district plans to spend $775 million overall, or $46.5 million more than this year.  Much of that increase will go toward a building program aimed at kickstarting the district’s five-year plan to expand  or remodel buildings to hand more than 3,000 expected additional students.

In the core general fund that most directly affects classrooms and students, spending is up by $8.8 million or 3.1 percent, to $543 million. The board approved the budget unanimously, but for one absence.

One $2 million chunk is designed to lower K-3 class sizes in seven low-performing schools to 18 students per classroom. That’s a goal set in recent union negotiations but research suggests it’s not low enough to nudge student achievement upward on its own. The affected schools are Bethune, Lind, Laney, Hall, Hmong International, Green Central and Sheridan. There’s another $3 million reserved for putting out fires on class size bulges that often arise when students actually show up in August.  

Another $1.5 million will go toward added classrooms at Andersen and Sullivan schools to teach recent-arrival Somali immigrants, $3.5 million is to make sure all schools have at least a minimal program for students learning English, while another onetime sum of up to $5 million was added from budget reserves at the last minute for redesigned programs for students learning English.

That latter addition provoked some board discussion about how transparent such last-minute spending pushes are. The money will be used for such purposes as changes in assessing the skill levels of newcomer enrollees, and potentially to encourage teachers to add training in working with such students to their current teaching licenses.

“There were some issues we needed to address immediately; we couldn’t wait,” said board member Alberto Monserrate. But board member Josh Reimnitz said he’s concerned about how the last-minute addition occurred, and Tracine Asberry raised similar questions.  But Rebecca Gagnon said the change moves the district can respond quickly to community concerns.  Robert Doty, who heads district finances, said he’ll work to manage spending to attempt to offset what otherwise throws the district into an unbalanced budget.

The district is also committing more money to places where previous investments have paid off.  Those include the AVID program that attempts to prepare students on the cusp of being able to go to college to have a better chance to succeed, the Check & Connect program to reduce dropouts, and more money for engineering, math and science promotion programs.

There’s $9.2 million for specialists in math and reading who will both teach in classrooms alongside teachers, demonstrate added techniques and help schools raise their performance in these areas. That’s an approach the district used previously but let drop for several years in the case of reading.

Mpls shines at avoiding sewage overflows

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 6, 2014 - 5:19 PM

While some metro metro communities are blaming aging infrastructure for the discharge of raw sewage into area waters after heavy rains last weekend, the Hennepin County community with the oldest sewers didn’t spill a drop of sewage.

In fact, Minneapolis has had only two small sewage overflows since 2006.  Those 2010 discharges of 200,000 gallons pale in comparison to the 360 million gallons spilled in 1984.

The city’s stellar record is the result of a long and costly investment in separating its stormwater and sanitary sewers. The job isn’t done, but most of the heavy lifting was completed between 1960 and 1995.

“We’ve made amazing progress in separating our sewers, even relative nationwide to comparable cities,” said Kelly Moriarty, an engineering supervisor for the city.

Mound and the Metro Council were blaming each other in the wake of last weekend's rains for the pumping of untreated sewage into Lake Minnetonka.

In the old days, both sewers that carried stormwater and those carrying sewage emptied into the Mississippi River and other natural waters.  By the late 1930s, household and business sewage headed to the new Pigs Eye metro sewage plant.

New developments got dual piping to handle the two flows. But that left hundreds of miles of older streets where sewers still had combined roles. It wasn’t until a massive Minneapolis street reconstruction program that began in the 1960s that those older streets got separate storm drains. The city also worked to take out connections where sewage can cross from one pipe to another.  The separation accelerated after 1986, both under pressure from environmental regulators and because state and federal aid supplemented utility bills paid by customers. To preserve capacity, property owners also were required to disconnect downspouts from sewers, and property owners have been encourage to adopt practices to hold back rain flow..

Overflows can happen when it rains or there’s heavy snowmelt because excess water reaching waste sewers flows into storm sewers that head directly to the Mississippi.  When sewage pipes reach capacity, regulators divert waste flow into the river. Otherwise pipes would burst from pressure or sewage would back up into basements.

The job of separating sewers in Minneapolis is 95 percent done, but separating remaining links has gotten harder and the remaining fixes are the most expensive. However, that degree of separation is sufficient to eliminate all but rare overflows.  

(Photo: Workers for the city work at finding breaches and repairing the city's storm tunnels. Photos by Richard Sennott.)

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