Four newly elected Minneapolis school board members stumble.
In a "What were they thinking?" moment, four of five incoming Minneapolis school board members earned themselves an "F" for one of their first joint acts.
At the behest of the district's teachers union, the four signed a letter on union stationery that chastised the current board, blaming it for contract talks that have dragged on for a year and a half with no settlement.
Even before taking the oath of office, the four essentially sided with the teachers without having reviewed any of the arguments from management's perspective.
That's not only poor judgment, it also revealed a disturbing lack of understanding about how top managers should handle contract and other personnel matters.
Their action also signals their biases in the contract talks for which they will be responsible when they formally take office in a couple of weeks.
Under Minneapolis Federation of Teachers letterhead, board members-elect Jenny Arneson, Rebecca Gagnon, Richard Mammen and Alberto Monserrate wrote, "We join with the teachers and education professionals of the MFT in urging members of the current school board to resolve the issues that would hinder our future efforts to work collaboratively. ...
''Members of the current school board have created ill will by refusing to stand by the provisions of its agreements with teachers and other school employees.''
While it's true that concluding the contract talks is important, the four incoming board members should never have even considered a public reprimand of the current board.
Board member-elect Hussein Samatar understood that and wisely declined to sign the letter.
Though he was endorsed by the MFT, Samatar said it was inappropriate for the union to ask newly elected members to sign. He also said that incoming board members should not take sides before studying all of the information on the contested issues.
The current contract expired before the start of the 2009-10 school year, and union and district leaders have been at an impasse for about 18 months.
Though some pay and benefit questions remain, one of the major issues involves whether district leaders should have more flexibility to assign teachers instead of strictly following current seniority rules.
Tensions are high because without some major contract changes on staffing issues, the district will not be able to proceed with plans to address the achievement gap in its schools.
In January, the district paid an $800,000 fine for failing to meet a state contract deadline. And in October, a state-hired arbitrator ruled that the district must pay $17 million in raises and back pay to teachers and support staff.
Following a barrage of criticism about the MFT-sponsored letter, Mammen said the letter's "ill will'' language was inflammatory and that he regretted it.
Monserrate admitted that signing the letter on union letterhead demonstrated bad judgment, but said he still agreed with the message.
This Editorial Board endorsed each of the four candidates in primary or general-election campaigns.
We have high expectations for their service and hope this first misstep is not indicative of the way they will represent their constituents in the future.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.