It was a day of countermoves Monday in the dispute over the Minneapolis school district's shift of Minnesota School of Science charter out of the district's Cityview building in north Minneapolis.
The district set up shop near the school's playground in an effort to recruit MSS students to a new school in the Cityview building that it plans will operate significantly differently from a typical district school, and more like the school it is ousting.
That prompted close to three dozen MSS supporters -- from students to board members -- to mobilize a short distance away to protest that. But much of their message was drowned out by a district generator that powered five inflatable play areas, which the district employed along with snow cone and popcorn machines to entice families. So far, parents seem to be staying loyal to the threatened charter even if it lacks a site for next year. Several last week spoke glowingly of interviews of how the school motivated their students, and drew a contrast to their previous experiences with district schools.
The MSS message was that the district should back off, consent to it switching from the district to Pillsbury United Communities as an authorizer, and give the school a year to move in an orderly fashion. The district has cancelled the charter's lease for non-payment effective the end of this month, a situation triggered by the state's ban on rent aid being paid to the district as both authorizer of the school and landlord, and the district won't release the school to another authorizer. An authorizer is required by law to oversee the school.
"It's not money. It's about egos," said MSS board member Rosilyn Carroll. "It's about adults. Ir's definitely not about children. We are caught in adult games, and it's time we stop manipulating children of color."
The district is trying to send the message that it's not trying to lure students back to the old Cityview program, which didn't produce good academic results. Rather it wants to feature the reopened schol as the first of its "partnership" schools, a new model that needs teacher union signoff to implement as the district wants. It wants those schools to feature longer days and years, more flexibility, and financial incentives for teachers.
One key feature of that program would be to recruit some of the same teachers who have signed contracts with MSS for next school year. The district said it has made offers to five of those teachers, and a major attraction for them is to stay with their students, according to Associate Superintendent Sara Paul. SMM teachers must pay a penalty to opt out of their contracts if the school continues to exist next school year, she said. But with their average salary in the $33,000 to $35,000 range, they could quickly recoup the penalty with a district stating salary of at least $39,137. Teachers who want to switch to the district won't jeopardize their status with MSS, board chairman Murat Ergen said.
The two-year-old charter school has engenedered strong loyalties from the parents of many of its more than 300 students. "It's basically our children's future that they're playing around with," said Maile Vue, mother of a kindergartner and third grader. The school engenders excitement, she said, citing one daughter. "When she's sick, she'll say, 'Go to school mama and pick up my homework.'"