At first glance, Monday’s extravaganza outside the Cityview school building in north Minneapolis appeared to be another carnival-like spring event designed to court parents and students for next fall.
But the presence of protesters — many of them drowned out by the generators that powered the inflatable play areas the Minneapolis School District had set up — showed the scene to be far more complex, one reflecting the chronic controversy over who can best educate north Minneapolis children — the district or charter schools.
The district designed the event to woo students away from the Minnesota School of Science (MSS), the two-year-old charter school it’s booting from the Cityview building. It also said it had made job offers to five of that school’s teachers, hoping to lure MSS parents loyal to those teachers to its new Cityview program.
MSS supporters protested nearby, accusing the district of acting hastily and unfairly against a school they say has educated children better than other programs that have been housed at Cityview, which hugs the west noise wall of Interstate 94 two blocks north of Lowry Avenue N.
Noise advantage or no, the district appears to face an uphill battle in trying to lure students from MSS, a school that currently has no site for next year, back into a building where past district classes have been synonymous with failure. That’s judging from the protest, as well as the earful MSS supporters gave the school board last week and comments in interviews.
‘Our children’s future’
“It’s basically our children’s future that they’re playing around with,” Maile Vue, mother of a kindergartner and third-grader, said in an interview. MSS instilled excitement in its students, she said, citing one daughter: “When she’s sick, she’ll say, ‘Go to school, Mama, and pick up my homework.’ ”
For its part, the district is working hard to get across the idea that the K-5 school it plans to open in Cityview is not going to be just another district school — in fact, more like the school it is ousting. It plans the new school as the first of the district’s planned dozen or so “partnership” schools. That’s a new model that needs teacher union sign-off to be implemented as the district wants.
Such schools would feature longer days and years, more flexibility, and financial incentives for teachers. The district also is banking that luring some of the school’s teachers will bring in families loyal to them.
It canceled the charter’s lease over nonpayment effective the end of this month, a situation triggered by the state’s ban on rent aid being paid to the district when it’s both authorizer of the school and landlord. And the district won’t release the school to another authorizer. An authorizer is required by law to oversee a charter school.
The district also has raised issues over tardy financial reporting, whether the school steered certain students away, and whether tests that show big academic proficiency improvements were properly monitored. The school said it has addressed those issues.
‘It’s about egos’
The three dozen MSS protesters’ message was that the district should back off, let the school switch from the district to Pillsbury United Communities as an authorizer, and give the school a year to move in an orderly fashion. So far, the district has denied a potential switch to Pillsbury.
“It’s not money. It’s about egos,” said MSS board member Rosilyn Carroll. “It’s about adults. It’s definitely not about children. We are caught in adult games, and it’s time we stop manipulating children of color.”
Sara Paul, a district associate superintendent, said MSS teachers would have to pay a substantial penalty to opt out of their contracts if the charter school continues to exist next school year, she said. But with their average salary in the $33,000 to $35,000 range, they could quickly recoup the penalty with a district starting salary of at least $39,137. Teachers who want to switch to the district won’t jeopardize their status with MSS, board chairman Murat Ergen said.
The district tacitly acknowledged that there is substantial skepticism among North Side residents over the effectiveness of district schools by recruiting other charter schools that it authorizes or partners with to recruit alongside it on Monday. They included the highly rated Harvest Prep school and its two sister schools, one of which the district sponsors.