It’s a balance that an elected board must carefully strike in any organization: Members should understand how to be responsive to their constituents without micromanaging day-to-day operations. Good governance involves setting policy and working with top administrators to carry out those policies.
The Minneapolis school board recently really blew that basic Governance 101 principle. During an April 18 meeting, board members were confronted by more than 100 angry protesters — including some MPS staff — who alleged that some educators of color were let go because of racism and because they advocated for students. They pleaded with the board to reinstate those who were laid off.
In response, the board passed a resolution that called for the educators to be rehired or be given recommendations to be rehired. So without additional information and without consulting their administration or the principals who made the staffing decisions, they made a snap call to appease the protesters.
That’s no way for a governing board to do business. Hiring or firing on the fly without investigating the circumstances is irresponsible.
Superintendent Ed Graff announced in February that the district faced a $28 million budget gap for the coming school year. His plan to deal with the shortfall included a 10 percent reduction in Central Services and a 2.5 percent trim to individual school allocations, which could mean some staff reductions.
But the Social Justice Education Movement, which organized the protest, said in a release before the meeting that it had found more than a dozen scenarios of employees, especially nonwhite ones, being “pushed out” for “advocating for students.” The group alleged that the dismissals were not budget related, but were based on race and the way staffers support students.
During the limited discussion in front of protesters, some board members expressed reservations about taking action. Board chairwoman Rebecca Gagnon said it was hard to verify such assertions without employee breakdowns by race and gender, which the administration could provide to the board.
In the end, however, Gagnon and the majority of the board approved the ill-advised resolution. Only board member Don Samuels, a former City Council member, abstained. He later told a reporter that he was surprised the board let itself be convinced and acted in a manner that he said “violates our rules.”
Last week, the board held a special meeting with nearly 100 principals and assistant principals who were rightly upset. They said they did not make layoff decisions lightly and were frustrated that the board sided with the protesters without investigating the details of the dismissals.
Several board members apologized, which was welcome. But apologies wouldn’t have been necessary if they had done their jobs properly in the first place. Nearly 36,000 students and their families deserve better.