Final School Board forum highlights differences

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October 26, 2012 by Sarah M

Thursday’s discussion clarified the choices in the two contested races

//By Dylan Thomas//

THE WEDGE — The candidates for School Board met in their final pre-Election Day forum Thursday night at Jefferson Community School, and while they offered little new information for voters — including the three dozen or so in the audience — they clarified the choices to be made on Nov. 6.

Those choices are between the incumbent Carla Bates and her challenger Doug Mann for a citywide seat on the board and between Patty Wycoff and Josh Reimnitz in District 4, which includes the Southwest neighborhoods north of Lake Street, East Calhoun, parts of downtown and the southern tip of the North Side. The candidates in two uncontested races, Tracine Asberry in Southwest’s District 6 and incumbent Kim Ellison in the North Side’s District 2, made brief opening statements and then left the stage to watch the rest of the forum from the audience.

As the night progressed the distinctions between the candidates became clearer: between the experienced incumbent (Bates) and a largely single-issue candidate (Mann) in the citywide race; and between someone who takes a parent’s perspective on school issues (Wycoff) and a candidate who’s own school experiences are not long past (Reimnitz) in District 4.

In the opening statements, Wycoff reintroduced herself as a longtime resident of District 4’s Bryn Mawr neighborhood (where she is a community organizer), a district parent, former substitute teacher and active school volunteer who was galvanized by the district’s handling of Changing School Options, the restructuring plan of several years ago that prompted parent backlash over changes to school and busing options. Reimnitz also has classroom experience, having spent two years in Atlanta schools through Teach for America, and now leads a non-profit organization. Reimnitz also recently won an endorsement from the Star Tribune.

The newspaper’s editorial board picked Bates in the citywide race, citing her position and perspective as the board’s most-veteran member, and she spoke of pushing forward with district initiatives that aim to prepare all students for college or work. Mann, who refused to meet with the Star Tribune’s editorial writers, retained his singular focus on the district inequities he says are largely due to high teacher turnover in schools in schools with large populations of poor and minority students.

Asked at one point to identify something about Minneapolis Public Schools that they are “proud of,” Mann paused, searching for an answer, and finally responded: “I’m so focused on what doesn’t work in the school district this kind of question throws me for a loop, unfortunately.”

Bates took an opportunity in her closing statement to, as she said, “set the record straight” on some of Mann’s oft-repeated claims. She agreed inexperienced teachers were a significant issue for the district’s struggling schools, but said the “staffing crisis” Mann describes again and again was a problem of the last decade, exacerbated by declining enrollment and instability in the superintendent position — two trends that have begun a slow U-turn in recent years.

The starkest line was drawn between Wycoff and Reimnitz when a question from the audience noted Minneapolis Public Schools operates on an annual budget of roughly $750 million, and asked the candidates to describe their experience dealing with multi-million dollar budgets.

Reimnitz could cite his time as student body president at North Dakota State University, where he managed more than $2 million in student fees, and his current role as co-executive director of Students Today Leaders Forever, which he said operates with a “multi-million” budget. Wycoff acknowledged frankly that she has no such experience, but reminded the audience of her investment in the district as a parent and said she was “ready to learn.”

Wycoff also highlighted her resourcefulness as a fundraiser. Noting the significant fundraising advantages schools in richer communities have over those in poorer communities, she described rallying the entire Bryn Mawr neighborhood — including area businesses — in support of a community school where about 85 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Parenthood became another dividing line between the two.

On the campaign trail, Wycoff often returns to her experiences as a district parent, one who has sometimes felt like her opinion was not valued by the School Board or district administrators — a message that could resonate with other parents. But Reimnitz, picking up on a theme of the Star Tribune’s endorsement editorial, noted the current School Board includes a majority of members with children enrolled now or previously in district schools and said he would bring a new perspective, and some youthful energy, to the boardroom.

There were a few other points during the discussion when the candidates’ viewpoints clearly diverged. Asked about alternative licensure for teachers, Wycoff, Reimnitz and Bates all supported to some extent programs that get teachers who haven’t followed the typical educational pathway into classrooms, while Mann focused on the downside of such programs: in his view, replacing “fully qualified” teachers with those less experienced.

Asked about tenure laws that protect the jobs of experienced teachers, Wycoff was clear in her support for the “due process” protections afforded by tenure. Reimnitz agreed such protections were important, but said the process for earning tenure needed reform so that it was “more fair and rigorous.”

“I don’t believe in tenure,” was Bates’ clear response, adding that state employment laws already give teachers the due process protections being discussed. Mann spent more time describing how tenure laws work than outlining his own position, but seemed to contradict Bates when he said tenure kept experienced teachers from being “bumped around at the whim of a principal.”

The forum is scheduled for rebroadcast on the Minneapolis Television Network before Nov. 6. For more details, check mtn.org.

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3 thoughts on “Final School Board forum highlights differences

  1. Doug Mann says:

    In contrast to Carla Bates, who clearly stated that she opposes tenure rights, I fully support teacher tenure rights. Teachers are essentially employed-at-will, and may be fired at the whim of a principal during their first 3 years of employment, under the teacher tenure act which applies to Minneapolis. After completing a three year probationary period, teachers are considered permanent employees, and may be fired for poor performance only after they are given warnings and opportunities to improve their performance. Teachers may be fired for conduct, with or without prior warning depending on the nature of the offense. The teacher tenure act also gives teachers the right to refuse reassignment, except in circumstances spelled out in the Act, though non-tenured teachers would not dare to assert this right. Carla Bates suggests that these rights are granted under some other state employment law, mentioning Civil Service, which generally covers state employees, but not school district employees.

    The article suggests that I did not offer a response to a question about what’s good about the district. The pause and comment quoted by Dylan Thomas was actually sandwiched in between two responses to the question.

  2. Eli Kaplan says:

    I was excluded from the League of Women’s Voter’s Forum because, the reason given to me, was that I am a write-in candidate and there might be other candidate’s whose names would be written in. It was deemed to be unfair in spite of the fact that I have been actively “campaigning” and had been invited onto other forums. I respect the League’s rules; however, I would like to respond to the discussion as if I had been there.

    Who am I? I am 80 yrs old and have been active in MPS for ½ my lifetime. I was involved in creating the South High Open School as a pathway for open school students. I was on the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee for 25 yrs and chair for 8 years. During this time I have seen the board make decisions which did not benefit the entire district, and ended up costing the district money. I had been encouraged for many years to run for school board but it wasn’t until several people said that they could not vote for any of the current candidates that I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

    Regarding the tenure question, I do not agree with Carla. I think tenure is very important in many situations where perception plays a role in the evaluation of teachers. We need tenured teachers who are skilled in specialized programs such as the Montessori, Open, Dual Emersion, etc. Teachers also need to know that there is stability in their job, otherwise why go into teaching, much less try to improve teaching skills.. Teachers need to be treated as professionals who are given the task of educating our kids regardless of their status or where they come from. Since MPS is implementing a teacher evaluative system which will be performed over several years, teachers can use that evaluation and time to grow and improve. Those teachers who are not willing to improve will be encouraged to leave the teaching profession.

    Regarding the issue of what there is in MPS to be proud of, I like the fact that the administration is attempting to be more honest with the public in its goals and asking for time to be allowed to develop their current programs. Although it is not sharing the data at an early enough, it is improving in informing everyone about its strategy.

    I present a different perspective from both Carla and Doug, since I would like to see more parental involvement in the decision making at all levels. Too many decisions have been are made for good reason, but were reversed because parents in affected schools subsequently protested before the board about the decision. These original administrative decisions were made with an eye toward what would benefit the entire district and not just a particular school or program. For this reason, I do not think that the incumbent really understands how her positions impacted on the district as a whole.

    Decisions made by the board have caused overcrowded classrooms in oversubscribed buildings, extra cost due to problems with charter schools, such as building leasing, and some charters not wanted to deal with special needs students, low teacher moral due to desire to create longer school day and/or longer school year without compensation, less teacher stability relating to tenure. I would like to help create a new perspective of MPS, in which we return to our days when we were recognized as one of the top schools nationwide and everyone feels that they can trust and respect each other in order to make all our students global citizens.

  3. Voter Jim says:

    Eli wrote: “I present a different perspective from both Carla and Doug, since I would like to see more parental involvement in the decision making at all levels. Too many decisions have been are made for good reason, but were reversed because parents in affected schools subsequently protested before the board about the decision. These original administrative decisions were made with an eye toward what would benefit the entire district and not just a particular school or program. For this reason, I do not think that the incumbent really understands how her positions impacted on the district as a whole.”

    Eli, you say above you want more parent input, but appear to be criticizing the Board for heeding parent input in reconsidering their decisions. And why is Carla Bates responsible for parent pressure convincing the Board to reconsider on whatever unspecified decisions you are alluding to? This just struck me as hard to decipher.

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