Carla Bates has been an outsider for much of her life, something that has changed only to a degree as a school board member.
She’s shown a maverick streak in her first term on the board, voting against a proposed teacher contract and against the administration’s proposed compensation policy for top officials, one of only two dissenting votes on each issue.
Now in the one school race in which all Minneapolis voters can weigh in, she’s seeking a second term. She’s opposed on the ballot by Doug Mann, in his eighth run for the board, who can match Bates for outsider credentials. In addition, Eli Kaplan is running a write-in campaign and participated in a recent candidate forum.
Bates was born into the position of outlier. Her mother in Pierre, S.D., struggled with mental health issues, and Bates was raised on public assistance for much of her childhood. In an interview, she credits teachers and librarians in her hometown with “saving my life.” They encouraged her to apply for college. The first adults she came out to as a lesbian were her teachers.
Bates, 50, lives in the Seward neighborhood and her children have attended Seward Montessori and South High School. She is endorsed by Women Winning, the DFL’s Stonewall Caucus, Mayor R.T. Rybak, and seven of 13 council members. Among her school board peers, Bates has been endorsed only by fellow maverick Hussein Samatar, and by friend and lame-duck member Jill Davis.
“I’m not unaccustomed to being alone or to being in a situation where I may be the outlier,” she said. “I have very strong opinions and at the same time, I’m very reasonable”
Bates demonstrated her independence once again last week at a candidate forum in which she responded to a question by declaring opposition to teacher tenure, which by law grants job security after three years of teaching in Minneapolis. Mann and Kaplan immediately jumped on that. “She’s in trouble,” Kaplan said.
Bates is DFL-endorsed, but asked the city teacher union not to consider her for endorsement after she voted against the proposed teacher contract. She felt more fundamental changes were needed to address the racial achievement gap.
Bates argues that teachers shouldn’t have due-process protections greater to those of other public employees, including Bates herself as a University of Minnesota civil servant. She said she’s seen no egregious abuses of due process for public employees without tenure protection. The tenure law grants a teacher increased job security after the first three years of teaching in Minneapolis. It means that they can’t be fired without due-process, meaning that administrators must prove they have just cause under the law for firing a teacher. Tenure also protects academic freedom, allowing teachers to hold or expose students to unpopular views.
She said she’s not advocating that the district lobby the Legislature to repeal the law granting tenure to teachers . But she said that removing tenure would make it easier for the district administration to hire and retain the pool of teachers needed to carry out its academic agenda.
Bates cites a list of accomplishments in her first term. She claims credit for helping to lead the board in performance evaluation of the superintendent. She got the board to authorize a special education study commission that hasn’t begun yet but which she hopes will beef up the district’s programs for transitioning older students to adult hood. She worked to change state law to allow the district and union to bargain over the role of seniority.
Mann offers a critique from the left, endorsed by the Green Party, Democratic Socialists of America and New Progressive Alliance.
Mann, 55, is a nurse who lives in the Folwell neighborhood. In his last school bid in 2008, he finished last in the general election with about 10 percent of the vote, while Bates nearly doubled his tally.
He’s long advocated for educational equity among district schools and students, calling for changes to reduce the impact of teacher churn at low-performing schools to give more continuity to students and to raise the experience level of teachers at those schools. He has also spoken against tracking of students into ability groups. More recently, he’s joined the backlash forming among some educators against what they label “corporate-style reforms” of education financed by business or foundations, and emphasizing undercutting statutory and contract rights for teachers and pushing test-driven teacher evaluations
Kaplan, 80, lives in Linden Hills neighborhood. He’s long served on district-wide parent committee, and chaired the now-defunct budget advisory committee for numerous terms. Kaplan has been critical of district financial management, noting that the board has been balancing its budget by dipping into reserves.