A week that was supposed to bring closure has instead pitched the Minneapolis School District into crisis, as its board weighs what comes next in an emotional search for the next superintendent.
The board unanimously voted Tuesday to ditch its preferred candidate, Sergio Paez, because it did not believe the community could rally around him after allegations surfaced that staff members at a school in his former district hit and physically abused students.
But when members were about to vote on giving the job to interim superintendent Michael Goar, a group of protesters — from parents in south Minneapolis to members of the NAACP — brought the meeting to a halt, demanding that the board start its search over. The district has now been without a permanent leader for a nearly a year.
“Last night was a very difficult night in general,” said Jenny Arneson, school board chairwoman. “It is not one that I was proud to be a part of. There is plenty of blame to go around, but ultimately the board needs to come together if we are going to make a good decision for the kids of Minneapolis.”
Some in the community say the district needs to give the job to Goar to create stability and ensure that a property tax referendum in November gets approved by voters. Others say appointing Goar will not bring the unity and community support that the board says is so necessary to improve student achievement.
The board has not yet decided when it will meet to vote on a resolution to begin contract negotiations with Goar, Arneson said. In the coming days, the board will decide whether to call a special meeting. It also could act at its next committee of the whole meeting in two weeks or wait until the February board meeting.
“We didn’t finish our discussion,” Arneson said. “We had a difficult meeting last night, and those are not circumstances we care to repeat.”
She said she had not expected protesters to interrupt the meeting.
Some community members say restarting the superintendent search is the only action that will ensure that meetings are not disrupted.
With a group of about 20 protesters, Raeisha Williams, a North Side resident, warned the board members that the community would vote them out if they chose Goar.
“You are going to have more protests and a lot of public revolt,” said Bryan Barnes, a south Minneapolis resident who joined Tuesday’s protest.
“We are not behind Goar even more than we weren’t behind Paez,” Barnes said. “If you select Goar, you are going to have all hell break loose.”
But others say the uproar against Goar is just a result of a few angry people.
Pam Costain, a former board member and the director of the district’s nonprofit partner, wrote on her Facebook page: “I just can’t hold my tongue any longer. Our school district is in crisis. We have a leadership vacuum created by an overly long and chaotic search process.
“I want the school board to appoint [Goar] as the permanent superintendent, to do it NOW and to get on with the business of the district,” she continued.
Another former board member, Alberto Monserrate, said he, too, supports Goar.
“Sometimes board decisions are not popular, and that’s simply part of the job,” Monserrate said. “You won’t always please everyone. They’ve decided they won’t hire Paez, decided not to start a new search. There is only one more decision to be made, and it has to be made ASAP.”
Still, many of the nine board members said Tuesday that they want to select a superintendent and unify to support that person.
Unity and cohesion is essential to creating a climate that allows a superintendent to succeed, they said.
“The board has to regroup,” said former superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, who resigned in December 2014. “The board chair now has to step up. They need to find somebody who is a unifying force for the community.”
Johnson said Goar, who was her chief executive, is a strong candidate who can stabilize the district. But Johnson said Tuesday’s meeting made clear that some district residents do not think Goar is a unifying leader.
“There is no one great candidate,” Johnson said.