Josh Reimnitz took his seat on the Minneapolis school board in 2013 as an anomaly: a lanky former Teach For America member backed by school reform groups instead of the teachers union or the DFL. A recent Minnesota transplant. Just 27 years old.
Four years later, Reimnitz, now 31, has managed to work his way into the inner circle of the state’s third-largest school system, with 36,000 students, a stubborn achievement gap and a school board that has been called dysfunctional.
Reimnitz tried to take things in a new direction and made significant progress despite opposition.
Now he’ll have to watch the schools’ progress from afar. Ousted in the November election, he officially steps aside Tuesday, before the policies he worked on come to a vote.
“That’s the benchmark for me, is if we’re actually changing things for kids. I would say that we fell short of that overall, with some great exceptions,” Reimnitz said, pointing to increased graduation rates and fewer suspensions.
Reimnitz’s election brought to light divisions between school reformers and the establishment in Minneapolis education politics.
He made waves when he raised a record amount for a Minneapolis board race in 2012 — about $43,000, he said, donated by local funders and national school reform advocates. That raised worries about national influence in a local race.
This time around, he raised about $16,000 for his race and was beaten by Bob Walser, a music educator endorsed by the DFL and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
Reimnitz never won DFL endorsement or the support of the teachers union. But he rose within the ranks to become board clerk.
The union praised him in his last days on the board.
“I think he did the best he could for the work that he wanted to advance,” said MFT President Michelle Wiese.
Not one to ‘beat his chest’
For the four years Reimnitz sat at the board table, the Minneapolis school district lurched from one controversy to another and rolled through one superintendent and two interim ones before giving the job to Ed Graff in mid-2016.
Initiatives Reimnitz championed faced opposition.
He proposed reducing meetings to one business meeting monthly to give the superintendent more time to lead. He was the only member to vote no on the 2016 budget, saying it didn’t match with the district priority of giving resources to the neediest kids.
Reimnitz injected energy into board meetings, said Richard Mammen, who was school board chairman when Reimnitz arrived.
He won’t “beat his chest” about accomplishments, said Daniel Sellers, who until last year led MinnCAN, an education advocacy group that was not friendly to teachers unions or the Minneapolis Public Schools. He now leads another advocacy group called Ed Allies.
“Josh did a lot of things quietly while blog posts were written about him that were negative, and accusations and words were flung around sort of outside of his world,” Sellers said.
Bright spots during his time on the board include the district’s increased graduation rates and reduction in suspensions, though Reimnitz pointed out that the racial disparity in suspensions still exists.
His signature contribution is fittingly low key. He led the rewrite of the massive policy manual that instructs the nine-member school board on how to function.
He said his draft of a shorter, leaner policy manual would increase the board’s focus on plans that will make change for kids. School board chairwoman Jenny Arneson pointed to the manual as a key accomplishment for Reimnitz.
The board moves forward on Tuesday with three newly elected members who were all DFL- and teachers union-endorsed. Reimnitz’s parting advice for the new board: “Be open to listening and to different perspectives,” he said.
As for himself and his legacy, Reimnitz says, “I’d like to think that my intentions are clear and that people see me as sincere, when I actually want to do best for students.”