Henn. Co. chair suggests role for county in running Mpls. schools


Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Hennepin County appointments to the Minneapolis school board members might help kids in school and boost graduation rates, Mike Opat said Thursday morning in his State of the County address.

The County Board chairman, who was delivering the first such address in Hennepin County since 2009, said that the county has a moral and financial stake in the future of its children and that “a radically different way” is needed to ensure their success.

“We have a decent quilt. But what is needed is a fabric woven of a philosophy to assist kids early and consistently,” Opat said, according to prepared remarks to be delivered to before county officials and members of the Twin West Chamber of Commerce in Plymouth.

Minneapolis school board members currently are elected. Although more cities nationally have gotten involved in school district affairs in recent years, county involvement in school boards is comparatively rare.

In a related note, Opat said that Hennepin County officials are meeting with the county’s 17 school superintendents to discuss ways of working together. Examples are sharing truancy information and joint funding of school social workers.

Opat proposed that Hennepin County also take the lead in promoting wellness to “improve our collective health” and avoid “bankrupt[ing] our future in health care costs.”

Without mentioning specifics, he said that the county should work with health care providers, businesses, insurers, cities and schools to “point ourselves in the direction of being the healthiest place in America.”

Opat said the state of Hennepin County was “ever-changing” -- cutting some operations, transforming others and striving to find the best way to do business.

He said he hadn’t delivered a State of the County address – typically an annual exercise – in the last two years because the sluggish economy left him with little to talk about. Since then, he said, Hennepin County has cut spending, taxes and employees.

Opat said the county will focus on improving more roads in the inner-ring suburbs and make roads more attractive and efficient. He said that the county will continue to press the Legislature for funding for the proposed Southwest light-rail transit line, which was shut out in this year’s funding bill.

  • Kevin Duchschere -- 612-673-4455
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