Hand count could decide hot school contest

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2012 - 9:26 AM

Minneapolis district vote seen as a referendum on board's stance on teacher contract changes.

Nonprofit leader Josh Reimnitz was leading neighborhood activist Patty Wycoff in the hardest-fought Minneapolis school board race in years early Wednesday, with the board's negotiating stance on teacher contracts hanging in the balance.

But the race is far from over. Three precincts in the district stretching between downtown and the lakes area are scheduled for a hand-count Wednesday because of technical difficulties in ballot printing.

Reimnitz said that with a margin of about 500 votes, he was "absolutely not" declaring victory. "I'm just excited that it's a close race," he said. Wycoff couldn't be reached.

Partly because of the technical problem, and partly because of a large volume of absentee ballots, the reporting of results from school races and others in Minneapolis was delayed on Tuesday night.

City Council Member Lisa Goodman called the lack of results three hours after polls closed "totally outrageous" and a disservice to the candidates and voters.

The Wycoff-Reimnitz race drew money from far beyond the city. A Wycoff win would preserve the relative balance of power on a board where a majority of members are union-endorsed, an edge the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers fought hard to keep. Reimnitz said he wants changes in the teacher contract, including a diminished role for seniority in personnel decisions.

Theirs was the marquee race in an election that expanded the school board to nine seats. Voters filled three new district seats and one existing city-wide spot, completing a transition to a hybrid of six district and three citywide seats.

In a citywide race, Carla Bates leads perennial candidate Doug Mann 3-1 in her bid for a second term, while Kim Ellison on the North Side and Tracine Asberry in southwest Minneapolis were unopposed.

Two board members, including Bates, voted against the last teacher contract. The union passed Asberry up for endorsement, and a Reimnitz win would bring those pushing for contract changes close to a majority.

Reimnitz set a spending record for a city school race, raising $37,000 by two weeks before the election. His contributors extended into the suburbs, and a school-reform political fund based in New York spent an undisclosed amount independently on his behalf.

Wycoff, who entered the race in the last 24 hours of filing, fought back with the federation's endorsement and spending contributed by its members that supplemented her fundraising.

The race split the city's DFL establishment after the party conferred no endorsement. Mayor R.T. Rybak was strongly behind Reimnitz along with two council members, while U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison backed Wycoff as did three council members, including Council President Barb Johnson.

The election was seen as a referendum on how voters feel about the board's relationship with the federation.

Reimnitz amassed his funds partly through his two years in Atlanta classrooms with Teach For America. That group's president, Matthew Kramer, is the board chair of a national reform group whose political fund backed a last-minute mailer featuring Rybak endorsing Reimnitz.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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