DFL delegates make their choices for schools

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  • April 29, 2014 - 5:14 PM

So why did DFL delegates embrace one charter school teacher with their party endorsement on Saturday while soundly rejecting a former charter school administrator?

Soundings taken with those who attended suggest that Nelson Inz positioned himself for the District 5 endorsement with what he described as a 15-year record of social justice activism. He cited his work for an increase in the minimum wage as one example.

That helped him to win the backing of several elected officials, most notably City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, and legislators Jeff Hayden and Susan Allen. Indeed, Inz abided by the party endorsement in 2012 when he competed for it with Allen, who went on to win a House seat. That usually earns points with party activists the next time around. Inz works at Great River charter school in St. Paul, where he teaches social studies in the Montessori High School and has served on its governing board.

Not too many years ago, coming out of a charter school background would be the kiss of death for a school board endorsing convention, when charters were seen as the enemy undercutting school districts by many union teachers making up a subset of the delegates. But now one aggregation of Twin Cities activists has formed the nation’s first union-backed entity for authorizing charter schools.

So Inz easily won a first-ballot endorsement over Jay Larson, a Lake Nokomis Community School parent with a several-year record of parent leadership at his school and the district. But that may have been overshadowed by Larson’s background as a promotion and marketing director for a national radio chain, one of whose Twin Cities outlets adopted a conservative talk format after he was hired that Larson said doesn’t represent his politics. Larson may also have been hurt by not pledging to abide by the party endorsement, something that doesn’t play well at a convention.  The normally gregarious Larson said Tuesday only that’s not made any plans.

Meanwhile, the main event Saturday pitted four candidates in a competition for two endorsements for board posts representing all city voters, unlike the six district seats.  Rebecca Gagnon sought endorsement in 2012 as a relative unknown and flopped at the convention. But when delegates that year only picked one endorsee for two citywide board openings, she launched a smart shoe-leather campaign that bested several better-known contestants.  Gagnon’s incumbency made her the favorite for endorsement Saturday, and she accomplished that handily.

That left former union political and organizing director Iris Altamirano, now parenting two preschoolers, human services professional  Ira Jourdain, a father of four, and former charter school administrator Andrew Minck.

The DFL typically embraces putting underrepresented minorities on the school board. Altamirano is Latina, Jourdain is Indian and Minck is gay and married.

Altamirano fell one vote short of endorsement on the first ballot, with delegates embracing the story she told as the daughter of a school janitor who won admission to Cornell University, an Ivy League school.  Jourdain finished a good distance back, and said afterward he’s considering a campaign, despite pledging to abide by the endorsement.

Minck finished dead last with just over 10 percent.  The Duluth native did his undergrad work at St. John’s University, and holds masters degrees in education and public administration. He also has a charter school background, previously serving as operations director at Twin Cities Academy, which meant he headed the non-academic side of the school.

But that may have overshadowed that in the minds of DFLers by his stint as a Teach For America teacher in Arizona, and his current employment in that organization’s national office, specializing in finance. TFA places recent college graduates in high-poverty schools, and some union teachers see the program as taking jobs from and undercutting the value of those who graduate from teacher colleges.

There’s also bad blood in some quarters over the outcome of the District 4 content for the board two years ago.  The teacher union-backed candidate, Patricia Wycoff, was edged by Josh Reimnitz, who set a new school board campaign spending record on the strength of contributions from an extended network of former and current TFA contributors, and others who style themselves reformers.

However, Reimnitz has shown no signs in public board votes and discussions of carrying an agenda on teacher issues that’s different from union-backed board members, and the latter say there’s no difference in private labor strategy sessions either.

Minck lost his endorsement bid despite styling hmself as the only candidate with experienc ein both teaching and school administration.

He didn’t pledge to honor the party endorsement, so Minck has the option of continuing his candidacy through the fall.  Candidates won’t file campaign finance disclosures until early August, but some delegates read the pre-convention mailings they got from Minck as evidence of a well-funded campaign that raises the possibility of another spendfest.

Minck said Monday that he’s not ready to analyze the convention results, but should make a decision on running or not in a couple of weeks after consulting with supporters.  If both Minck and Jourdain opt to run, that means that the convention will have accomplished little toward narrowing the DFL field, although the party endorsement has been the most powerful factor in recent election cycles in determining who is actually elected.  Also saying they plan to run citywide this year are Doug Mann and Dick Velner, who didn't seek DFL backing.

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