Minnesota students get a jump start on college with Postsecondary Enrollment Options

With the cost of college rising 23-30% between 1998 and 2008, it is more important than ever for high school students to get ahead with advanced courses in high school. Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, created in 1985, does just that, allowing students in their junior or senior year of high school to earn college credits. 
Currently, 66 colleges, universities and trade schools  participate in the program statewide, including the University of Minnesota and its branches and all state universities.  Any 11th or 12th student can participate in the program and enroll either full or part-time in courses or programs at postsecondary institutions.  Each college, university and trade school that offers PSEO sets its own requirements for enrollment. Students work with their high school to ensure that classes they are taking fulfill credit requirements they need to graduate on time.The PSEO program covers the cost of tuition, required books, and consumable course supplies for enrolled students, significantly lowering the future college costs. Transportation reimbursement is available for qualified low-income families. Benefits of participation often extend beyond saving the cost of college credits. Continue Reading

FORUM | Consolidated trash collection in Saint Paul

Unlike Minneapolis, which has government-managed trash collection resulting in a single collection option though the city, Saint Paul residents are permitted to shop around and choose any of more than a dozen licensed trash haulers to collect and remove their household rubbish. With no action from the Saint Paul City Council, residents who grew tired of having four or five different haulers drive down their block or alley each week were left with no choice but to band together with neighbors to attempt block by block consolidation.  Now, after years of frustration for some, the City Council has begun to look into the issue to decide whether a government-managed trash collection system, similar to the  Minneapolis system, would work on this side of the river, or whether the current process should be left alone. The Study: At the August 12th, 2009 City Council Meeting, Council members Dave Thune, Lee Helgen and Russ Stark offered a resolution asking for a report to be prepared, which would outline steps and recommend possible options for implementing an organized solid waste collection system in the City of Saint Paul. The study was to be returned within 45 days; however, the report resulted in new questions and was referred back to City Council research for further review. The Case for Trash Hauler Consolidation: Mary Hamel, who lives in the Saint Anthony Park Neighborhood of Saint Paul, organized her block to consolidate their trash collection.  For Hamel and her neighbors, consolidation meant going from five different trash haulers driving down their alley each week to only one. Continue Reading

New community committee will respond to Central Corridor in St. Paul, Minneapolis

In the face of continued opposition to the Central Corridor Light Rail by the University of Minnesota and community groups, the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis held a community meeting Sunday to talk about the landmark project and form a new committee to address the concerns of project stakeholders. More than 100 residents, elected officials, and project officials packed a standing room only Central Corridor Resource Center on University Avenue in Saint Paul to discuss a wide range of topics including business mitigation and affordable housing along the proposed line, as well as workforce hiring with contracting goals for minorities and women. 
Also discussed were site plans for the three newly added stations at Western Avenue, Victoria Street and Hamline Avenue that were not included in the original plan. In January, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced that additional funds had been secured to build the stations that community leaders considered vital to the success of the project.Rob Hahn, an Independence Party candidate for Governor, said meetings like this were important to ensure that businesses stay open during construction, and to push state and local government to address property taxes, which may or may not increase after construction.  Hahn said that rising property taxes as a result of construction was a legitimate concern.”There needs to be a way to work with those individuals and cap any property tax increase they may have for a 10 or 15 year period,” said HahnAttendees then voted for 20 representatives to a newly formed Community Agreement Coordinating Committee. The committee’s role will be to facilitate agreements between the project’s many stakeholders as it moves forward.  Those 20 representatives, 14 from Saint Paul and 6 from Minneapolis, join 10 appointed representatives representing the Saint Paul Mayor’s Office, Saint Paul City Council, Ramsey County, Minneapolis Mayor’s Office, Minneapolis City Council, Hennepin County, Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota. Vic Rosenthal of Jewish Community Action, who sat on the nominating committee, said, “We wanted to make sure a wide range of views were brought forward so that the people who serve on the committee would represent the diverse perspectives of the people affected [by the Central Corridor project].”Agreements and proposals by the committee will be forwarded on to the various councils for further action. Continue Reading

Bipartisan coalition seeks to reform Minnesota judicial elections

In a packed hearing room of over 100 observers, legislators with the State and Local Government Operations committee took a first step towards forever changing judicial elections in Minnesota.  HF 224, proposed by Representative Steve Simon of Saint Louis Park, and a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, calls for a constitutional amendment to end contested judicial elections in Minnesota, replacing them with retention votes, in which the public’s only option would be to say whether or not a judge should keep their job. (Also see Capitol Report column on this bill.)  Under current law, many judges, including members of the Minnesota Supreme Court, must run political style elections to retain their current seat. While most go unchallenged on the ballot, some incumbent judges do face opposition and must mount campaigns to keep their job.  Supporters of the bill say that the changes are needed due to recent court decisions that they believe will adversely affect the judicial system. The Republican Party of Minnesota v. White case loosened restrictions on judicial candidates, allowing them to seek party endorsement for elections, speak to political gatherings, identify themselves as a member of a political party, and solicit money personally from individuals. They may also take public positions on disputed legal or political issues. Continue Reading

November election will change Minneapolis school board

When Minneapolis voters go to the polls this November, they will see many changes as they elect members of the Board of Education – from who’s running to the structure of the board itself.  Currently, all seven members of the Minneapolis Board of Education are elected as at-large representatives. A 2008 referendum resulted in the overwhelming adoption of a plan that established election districts for the Board that coincide with existing districts for the Parks and Recreation Board. Minneapolis voters will elect five members to the Board of Education this fall, and four in 2012. The 2010 election will include the eastern Board of Education districts (1, 3 and 5) as well as two at-large seats.  In 2012, the western Board of Education districts (2, 4, and 6) as well as one other at-large seat will be elected to fill the new board. Overall, the size of the board will increase from seven to nine members by 2013 as the new system is rolled out over the 2010 and 2012 elections. Continue Reading

Don Fraser: Closing the achievement gap in Minneapolis

For more than 35 years, Don Fraser worked as a member of the Minnesota Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mayor of Minneapolis. Born in Minneapolis, Fraser was educated in the public school system and later at the University of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Law School.  Today, Fraser works with the Committee of the Achievement Gap, a project of the DFL Education Foundation, which was organized to study the educational achievement gap experienced by children from high-poverty areas, with a focus on the Twin Cities metropolitan area.  Last Thursday, Fraser sat down with me at this Minneapolis home to discuss a recent report by the Committee on a number of strategies for closing the achievement gap. The following are selections from our discussion. See the entire interview below or archived here and here.  David E. Kaplan: Over your distinguished career in public service and into retirement, you’ve long been an advocate for education.  Why education? Don Fraser: I think my interest in education, with the intensity I now bring to it, came in the middle of my mayoral term. Continue Reading

RNC 8 hearing packs courtroom

In front of a packed courtroom, lawyers for eight defendants arrested during the 2008 Republican National Convention argued more than a dozen pre-trial motions before Ramsey County Judge Teresa R. Warner.  The RNC 8 defendants (Luce Guillen-Givins, Max Specktor, Nathanael Secor, Eryn Trimmer, Monica Bicking, Erik Oseland, Robert Czernik and Garrett Fitzgerald) were charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage and conspiracy to commit riot.  In December, Judge Warner granted the defendants a joint trial as opposed to eight separate trials.  That decision laid the ground work for Tuesday’s marathon session. With more than 30 supporters in the gallery, and an appearance by Sheriff Bob Fletcher, the mood was quite jovial and relaxed at the beginning. As motion after motion was debated between the two sides, tensions grew.  At one point Judge Warner issued a stern reprimand to one of the defense lawyers for talking over the prosecution, An outburst of laughter and talking from some of the defendants during a particularly harsh exchange between the two sides led to Judge Warner reminding the defendants and their counsel that such actions would not be tolerated during the trial, set for October 2010. Lawyers for the RNC 8 had submitted a range of motions, most dealing with the suppression of evidence.  Additional motions alleged that prosecutors had violated the defendants’ First Amendment rights, and asked for dismissal of the case based upon discriminatory investigation and prosecution. Following an hour-long closed door discussion with counsell, Judge Warner decided that the majority of the motions would be postponed. Continue Reading

Update on Slavery to Sovereignty scam

On January 18 we broke the story on a local group called Slavery to Sovereignty, who are scamming immigrant and African American communities in the Twin Cities, claiming they can eliminate participants’ mortgages and all tax liabilities in return for $12,500.  The scam itself is based in part on statements similar to those made by an anti-government group called Posse Comitatus, who preach that no citizen is bound to obey any government authority higher than that of the county level. In fact, paying income tax or making social security payments violates their principle. While not affiliated with Posse Comitatus (as far as we know), Peter “P.J.” Johnson and Abagail Conley, the individuals behind Slavery to Sovereignty, echo much of what the Posse preaches. From the notion that a “U.S. National” has different tax obligations than a “U.S. Citizen” to the statement that through filing a Financing Statement under the Uniform Commercial Code, homeowners would be free to disregard their mortgage and could still keep their home, Johnson and Conley rehash many of the Posse Comitatus anti-government beliefs. Continue Reading

Rondo residents sue to stop Central Corridor Light Rail

Saying that government planning agencies have neglected to adequately consider the impacts of the Central Corridor Light Rail Project on area businesses and residents, neighborhood groups and residents filed a lawsuit in Federal Court today to keep construction on the long-planned project from commencing. (See related article: University Avenue businesses face double whammy with Central Corridor increasing their property taxes)

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“Slavery to Sovereignty” scam targets immigrants, African Americans in Twin Cities

With the foreclosure rate in the metro area still soaring, struggling homeowners face a new and more sinister threat – unscrupulous scam artists.  With ads claiming they can help you keep your home while eliminating your mortgage and property tax, a group calling themselves “Slavery to Sovereignty” is the latest in a long line to take advantage of residents who are desperate for help. At least one ad from the group ran in a newspaper that reaches a largely-immigrant audience, but the small group that gathered at Sabathani Center on January 9 appeared to be a mix of local African American residents as well as recent immigrants. People listened eagerly and had many questions as Peter “PJ” Johnson, a retired Minneapolis Parks Police Officer, and his partner Abagail Conley spoke. Johnson and Conley claimed they could eliminate participants’ mortgages and all tax liabilities in return for $12,500.  Mr. Johnson said the program would take anywhere from six months to three years, but was quick to point out that there were no guarantees. Johnson and Conley claimed that by paying them to assist in filing a Financing Statement through the Uniform Commercial Code, homeowners would be free to disregard their mortgage and would still keep their home. Continue Reading