Minneapolis mayoral contenders zero in on education

  • Article by: MAYA RAO and STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: October 22, 2013 - 5:47 AM

A look at top Minneapolis contenders’ ideas — and a reality check on them.

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Jefferson Community School teacher Kim Kiedrowski talked about the U.S. flag in her 1st/2nd grade class as Samukai Kromah and Miky Amare, both 7, looked on at right. While the Minneapolis mayor has no power over the school system, education issues are a top concern of city residents and, therefore, of the candidates.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii • rtsongtaatarii@startribune.com,

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Candidates for mayor of Minneapolis are zeroing in on education as never before, pledging to close the gap in achievement between white and minority students through a combination of extra funding, longer school days and years, and more flexibility in teacher layoffs.

The rhetoric flooding campaign speeches, debates and ads has caught even some education veterans off guard, particularly because the mayor has no power over the school system or its board.

“I’m surprised,” said Minneapolis Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. Still, she said, “Taking on the education and achievement gap is taking on a front seat that I believe is necessary in this country. A mayor cannot turn his or her back on the issue.”

Candidates disagree on some details of how a mayor can best advance education, the top concern of residents. But they concur that the winner in the Nov. 5 election must use the high profile of the office to pound the issue.

Here’s a look at some of their platforms and a reality check on them:

More time in schools? Costly

City Council Member Don Samuels and attorney Cam Winton have articulated the most reform-oriented proposals for schools.

Both say they’d advocate for longer school days and longer years. Samuels would add one hour daily and 20 days per year; Winton said he’d collaborate to determine how much, but he has a 10-hour day (not all of it at desks) and a 200-day year in mind. The current elementary day is 6½ hours long, and the school year is 176 days.

Their proposals would be costly. The district said that at current pay rates, it would cost more than $401,000 to extend the school day by one hour — and about $3.1 million to add a full day.

Winton said he would lobby the Legislature to pick up the bill.

Samuels said he’d seek evidence from smaller-scale tryouts that the extra time pays dividends on achievement, and then take those results to the state and public to justify the extra spending for other schools.

Critics say more seat time for students won’t yield gains by itself unless it’s accompanied by other pedagogical changes.

Council Member Betsy Hodges also has called repeatedly for longer school years and days, though she declined to offer specifics when questioned this month.

More federal money? Little leeway

Much of Hodges’ focus is on early-childhood development and prenatal health. She has suggested increasing access to Healthy Start, a program administered by the city with $888,320 from the federal government this year. It funds home visits to nearly 90 poor mothers through their child’s second birthday.

But Minneapolis has little leeway to expand the program because the federal government sets the amount of money it will give cities, according to the Health Department. A spokesman for Hodges’ campaign said in an e-mail that expansion of Healthy Start will take “many dedicated coalition partners,” including Minneapolis, and that the financial specifics would be a question for her planned Cradle-To-K Cabinet.

Hodges and other candidates also are promoting more access to child care. The Health Department said that funding for day care largely comes from other sources beyond city government, though the Youth Coordinating Board does address the quality of day care locally.

Layoffs by seniority or proficiency? Union resistant

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