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Contested Mpls. school board seat may sway union talks

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • October 15, 2012 - 7:34 PM

The district covers just one-sixth of the Minneapolis population, but the spillover from the city's most hotly contested school board race could shape the board's negotiating posture for the next teacher contract.

Patty Wycoff, 43, of Bryn Mawr is endorsed by the teacher union and sees no benefit for students in modifying the rule of seniority in district layoff decisions. She's a former substitute teacher who has volunteered in the four schools her children have attended.

Josh Reimnitz, 26, newly a resident in Elliot Park, has more recent teaching experience. He said he thinks some modification of seniority is warranted, citing his two years of experience in Atlanta public schools. He also backs teacher evaluations that consider input from classroom observations, parents, students and multi-year test results.

Just who prevails in District 4, which stretches from downtown to the Isles area, could determine the type of negotiating posture the school board takes for the next two-year contract. The current board took a more conciliatory approach than its predecessor, but the results left self-styled reformers unsatisfied and two board members voting against the contract. Tracine Asberry, whom the union gave a cold shoulder, is unopposed for another district seat.

Reimnitz came within 24 hours of winning the seat by default. He competed for DFL endorsement with Darrell Washington. Washington got it on the third ballot but dropped out of the race after questions were raised about a federal law that limits public employees holding elective office.

Several legislators, including former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, then prodded Wycoff to file. Wycoff said she did so because she thinks her work as a school volunteer and her job for the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association gives her a deeper knowledge of area schools and issues than Reimnitz.

Reimnitz, who moved to the area two years ago, is a North Dakotan who heads a nonprofit leadership program oriented to college students. He taught for two years in the Teach For America program, which provides compressed training and ongoing support for young people to teach in inner-city schools.

He said the experience taught him the difference between good and bad principals, and also that some teachers only go through the motions. It's one reason he supports teacher evaluation as a tool for helping willing teachers to improve.

Wycoff, in contrast, said she finds it "frightening" that so many Teach for America teachers are stationed at Bethune Elementary. The organization says there are six at Bethune.

"If either one of my children were put in a classroom with a Teach For America teacher, I would not rest until they were moved," she said.

Reimnitz said that's her privilege as a parent, but he's seen both good and bad teachers from traditional and Teach For America backgrounds.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @Brandtstrib

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