Weeks into the legislative session, Minneapolis Public Schools is losing its lobbyist.

After 17 years, Jim Grathwol is leaving the district to work for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. Grathwol is the first district executive departure since Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson announced her resignation in December.

Grathwol says his decision to leave had nothing to do with Johnson's resignation.

"This is an extension of the work I've done," said Grathwol, who is paid just over $111,000 a year with the district. "Really, I think people were surprised that I hadn't moved for 17 years."

Grathwol will begin working for MnSCU on Feb. 9. Minneapolis district officials say they will begin a search for Grathwol's replacement immediately.

"We thank Jim for 17 years of dedicated service and wish him well as he begins this new opportunity," said Michael Goar, the district's chief executive and incoming interim superintendent.

In the 2013 legislative session, Grathwol helped broker a deal between the school district and state Sens. Jeff Hayden and Bobby Joe Champion, who wanted to redirect $1 million from the district's state aid to a community organization that claimed it could help the district close its vast achievement gap. He advised that Johnson award a smaller contract to the group, Community Standards Initiative, which ultimately failed to meet its obligations. The contract was canceled in October and the DFL senators' involvement in the contract led to a Senate ethics inquiry.

"Mr. Grathwol negotiated with the senators on my behalf to reach a compromise on CSI," Johnson said in an affidavit.

Grathwol was one of two district executives who got a bonus in 2013. Johnson said she awarded the $7,000 bonus because "there are people who would love to have [Grathwol] come to work for them," she told the Star Tribune at the time.

Grathwol said he is proudest of his work around school finance. Year after year, he has lobbied for state dollars to go to districts with the neediest student populations. That could include students who are homeless, in need of special education or who have language barriers. Grathwol said he is glad the state ensures "we have a K-12 system that is designed to serve those that need it most."

There have been some disappointments, too. Grathwol said he was unable to persuade the state to set up better partnerships between charters and public schools. For example, he wanted charters to have better access to building facilities owned by public school districts. But the state's education department said that would be a conflict of interest.

"The goal was to figure out a way for charters and districts to better collaborate, to help them share better toys," Grathwol said. "There are a number of laws that prevent that from happening."

In his new role, Grathwol says, he work will continue to focus on giving all students access to a quality education.

"A higher success rate in post-secondary education is critical to continue to succeed as a state and a region," he said.

Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028