New Minneapolis school board district a hot contest

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2012 - 9:41 PM

Downtown-Isles primary candidates Josh Reimnitz and Patty Wycoff have very different takes on teacher pay, other school issues.

Although all Minneapolis voters can help decide a contested citywide school board primary election on Tuesday, the hottest contest is shaping up in a new district that combines downtown and the Isles area.

Three candidates are competing to be the two who compete in a November general election. They're former teacher Josh Reimnitz, neighborhood and school activist Patty Wycoff and William Lange. Wycoff and Reimnitz have been the more visible candidates in spending and campaigning, while Lange didn't register a campaign committee until last week.

Meanwhile, incumbent Carla Bates, who is running citywide for a second term on the board, faces three challengers. Nurse Doug Mann is the best-known of the three, having run repeatedly for the board and collecting about 7 percent of votes in the 2010 primary. Also running are Janice Mae Harmon and Willis G. Trueblood.

Candidates in two other districts are unopposed -- Kim Ellison on the North Side and Tracine Asberry in southwest Minneapolis.

But it's the District 4 primary that presents contrasts. Two of the candidates have taught, 26-year-old Reimnitz for two years in Atlanta city schools as a Teach for America participant, and Wycoff, 43, in Minneapolis and Richfield as a substitute in the 1990s. Wycoff is endorsed by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, while Reimnitz tends to be favored by those who argue that more reform of the teacher union contract would be good for student achievement. The latter have helped to give him a sizable financial advantage in fundraising.

Asked at a recent voter forum about potential contract changes, Wycoff emphasized fair compensation, sustainable benefits, holding principals accountable and giving teachers creative space within the curriculum. Reimnitz said he thinks the contract is a place to achieve longer school days and years and wants the district to work on improving its pipeline of principals.

The DFL had endorsed city employee Darrell Washington, who withdrew from the race due to a potential conflict with a law limiting political activity by those associated with federal grants.

Reimnitz says his students in Atlanta made significant gains on science tests. But the 2009 testing at his school was part of a multi-school investigation prompted by media accounts of suspect results. His classroom was among those with a higher number of wrong-to-right answer erasures, but he was not personally implicated or disciplined, unlike some others at the school. He said he followed testing protocols with another adult present, but didn't personally observe what went on in a room where stray marks were supposed to be erased from tests from many classrooms but answers were changed, according to the investigation report.

Reimnitz is single and has no children. He is a North Dakota native who headed that state university's student body and recently moved from Harrison neighborhood on the North Side to Elliott Park in the district, which he said was to be close to his job as co-director of a youth leadership nonprofit.

Wycoff has sent her children to a combination of district, suburban and interdistrict desegregation schools. They currently attend Southwest High School and FAIR Crystal. She said she's spent hundreds of hours as a school volunteer.

Wycoff said she heeded an appeal to run from former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher because she didn't want someone with little experience with the area's school issues to serve. She said she was in the middle of the debates over the school district's revamping of school attendance patterns in her part-time position as a staffer for the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association.

Some of the city's DFL heavyweights have lined up on opposite sides. Anderson Kelliher, legislators Marion Greene and Frank Hornstein, City Council Member Lisa Goodman and Parks Commissioner Anita Tabb support Wycoff, along with womenwinning (the Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund).

Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Council Member Don Samuels, and former school board chairs Catherine Shreves, Tom Madden and Pam Costain support Reimnitz, as do the Stonewall and veteran DFL caucuses.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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