Public schools were turned into a market
Minneapolis school board member Carla Bates hit the nail on the head in getting to the root of the district's problems ("Why I oppose Southwest High addition," Dec. 10). Open enrollment and the charter movement have created a competitive market for public schools in which parents are consumers and there are guaranteed winners and losers. This is a fundamentally flawed approach to public education because it undermines collective interest in the system as a whole as parents scramble to get the best deal for their child: a kind of Black Friday of schooling.
Public education is intended to be the great equalizer in an unequal society. However, it can't even begin to serve that purpose when racial and class inequalities in society at large are replicated between schools.
Open enrollment has allowed white, middle-class parents to hoard their privilege by concentrating it in certain schools. What these parents either fail or refuse to recognize is that the resources and opportunities their children enjoy come at the expense of those available to poor and nonwhite children who need them most, and who deserve them every bit as much.
MONICA ERLING, Minneapolis
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While Bates works on the long-term planning issues for the school district, the board should do the right thing and build the addition to Southwest High School. Crippling a successful program will not bring students to attend other schools, nor will it satisfy the abstract goal of equality. If open enrollment has offered parents attractive alternatives to Minneapolis schools, the board needs to compete for these students with high-quality academic and athletic offerings, including first-class facilities. The political courage Bates refers to is required to admit that the actively involved parents who support Southwest are not equally distributed across the city. These parents are the difference between strong-performing programs and the mediocre alternatives. They will seek out the best placement for their kids regardless of the board's spending decisions.
GEORGE HUTCHINSON, Minneapolis
Taxpayers, government are together in this
A Dec. 10 letter, referring to the state budget surplus, claims: "That money does not belong to the state of Minnesota; it belongs to its taxpayers."
As is often the case these days, the government is set apart from the people. In the United States, the government and the people are one and the same.
Our civil society works from neighborhoods to "the state of Minnesota" because we understand we are interconnected. To claim otherwise is to disenfranchise yourself from power. Language matters.
BRYAN HAUGEN, Mayer
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The Dec. 8 editorial calling for substantially boosting the budget reserve was the best advice the Legislature, the political parties and Minnesotans could get. And, congratulations to Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter for putting an early damper on talk of tax cuts and spending increases while dealing with a preliminary budget projection — it's not in the bank, folks.
Virtually all skilled and experienced observers of state budgets recommend budget reserves of around 5 percent. This comment from a 2007 publication of the Minnesota Budget Project says it all: "A healthy level of reserves allows policymakers time to make good budget decisions in the face of challenging economic circumstances. Instead of making quick and drastic choices to balance the state's budget, policymakers can use reserves to buy time to respond to the situation in a more thoughtful and deliberative way. Time to consider the consequences of making cuts to services at a point when they may be most needed, or time to consider the impact of raising additional revenues."
State government didn't heed that sound advice back then; let's hope it learns from what happened.
JOHN HOTTINGER, St. Paul
The writer is a former state senator and Senate majority leader.
Steamrolled — both literally and figuratively
In Dakota County, just minutes from the Twin Cities, there's a place to get away from it all. Lebanon Hills is a 2,000-acre park that lives up to its motto: "Forever Wild." Visitors may see fox, beaver, muskrat, coyotes and tundra swans while hiking or skiing over wooded hills descending to small, pristine lakes.
Sadly the park motto may need to change to "Forever Paved." Commissioners are poised to approve a 12-foot-wide, paved multiuse trail going seven miles right through the heart of the wild. The public was not invited to participate in the planning process, and heated opposition is being ignored.
The trail is meant to serve as a central hub connecting many other county and city bike trails, thus destroying the unique wilderness nature of this metro gem. Another paradise paved.
LAUREL REGAN, Apple Valley
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The more I learn about the new Lebanon Hills master plan, the more concerned I become. While the paved trail that will cut through the center of the park is not the only problem, it is the most glaring. The trail, which would be built to a maximum grade of 5 percent, would deface a park named after its hilly terrain. Hills through the center of the park would be leveled and low areas filled in.
The master plan's flaw is the assumption that concentrating outdoor activities in this single location would be desirable somehow. This conflicts with what a survey found is the park's greatest asset, "the natural character of the Lebanon Hills," as reported in the master plan itself. The county is creating a conflict that doesn't need to be. We can have both. We should expect Lebanon Hills to remain the wild gem that prompted the Star Tribune to name it as its 2013 "Best Park in the Twin Cities." And we should expect new greenways. We can have both as long as they are separate.
JEFF LITTLE, Apple Valley