Bernadeia Johnson steps down as Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent

In a surprise move, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson resigned on Tuesday, Dec. 16, at an annual school board organizational meeting.Superintendent Johnson cited family commitments as a key reason for her resignation, saying in a letter given to school board chair Richard Mammen that she felt it was the right time for her to step aside and allow another candidate to help move the district forward.In an email sent to MPS personnel on Dec. 16, Johnson also mentions a desire to attend to family concerns, saying that her decision to resign should not be taken as a sign that she has lost faith in some of her key initiatives. “Rather, I am acknowledging that the role of superintendent for the next phase of the work requires a level of intensity and focus to which I am unable to fully commit at this time,” Johnson wrote.However, for North Minneapolis community activist Kerry Jo Felder, who was there when Johnson submitted her resignation, the superintendent’s four year tenure has been less than successful. “I’m glad to see her go,” said Felder. Continue Reading

How much does a seat on the Minneapolis school board cost?

For incumbent board member Rebecca Gagnon, who came in first in the Nov. 4 election, the cost was approximately $.70 per vote. Gagnon, who ran for one of the two open citywide seats, secured her spot on the board with 56,901 votes.A fundraising chart for the four at-large school board candidates—Gagnon, Don Samuels, Iris Altamirano, and Ira Jourdain—put together by Minnesota Public Radio on Nov. 3 shows Gagnon’s campaign raised or otherwise benefitted from a fundraising amount of around $40,000. By dividing her fundraising dollars by the amount of votes she got, an approximate per vote cost of $.70 is determined.For Samuels, who came in second and therefore also won a citywide spot on the board, the cost per vote was much higher. Continue Reading

Minneapolis Public Schools CIO Rich Valerga steps down

Controversial Minneapolis Public Schools’ Chief Information Officer Rich Valerga is gone, according to district sources, who say Valerga announced his exit at a hastily called staff meeting on Monday, Nov. 3.An email sent to all Minneapolis Public Schools’ employees by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson confirms that Valerga will no longer be working for the district, saying Valerga has left to “pursue other endeavors.”Valerga joined the district as CIO in August 2013, becoming the third CIO for MPS in just three years. During his tenure, Valerga oversaw the firing, reshuffling, or dismissal of thirty-four of the department’s sixty employees, including long-time staff members such as Ben Peck and Krishna Pathak.Peck and Pathak shared their stories with the Twin Cities Daily Planet in May of 2014, as part of a series of articles about changes going on in the IT department. In late 2013 Valerga fired Peck without warning, and Pathak soon resigned as a show of support. In the interview with Pathak, he refers to Valerga as “rude, cruel, and disrespectful,” saying Valerga had a “my way or the highway” management style.Superintendent Johnson’s email to employees today said the changes Valerga ushered in have been “difficult on staff and the students in our schools.”  An IT employee who attended today’s staff meeting said that Valerga told those present that he had decided to step down because “his negative publicity was tainting the department and affecting the good work being done.”An MPS IT employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their job, did not know what negative publicity Valerga was referring to, saying he did not give any specific examples.Both the district employee and the email from Superintendent Johnson said that IT employee Fadi Fadhil will serve as director of the IT department until an interim leader can be found. Continue Reading

Follow the money: Jourdain calls out dark money in Minneapolis school board race

What do John Kline, Tom Emmer, Mitt Romney, and Minneapolis school board candidates Iris Altamirano and Don Samuels have in common?They have all received campaign donations from Minneapolis attorney Douglas Seaton, who was one of the lead attorneys working against the recent drive to unionize home-based childcare workers in Minnesota. Altamirano is a former organizer for the Service Employees Internation Union (SEIU), which helped lead the fight to organize home childcare workers.Seaton, who has given thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and committees, according to the website opensecrets.org, also  contributed $5,000 to the 2012 Minnesota Voter ID Amendment campaign, which was defeated by voters in the 2012 election.According to recent campaign finance reports, Seaton has given $250 donations to both Samuels and Altamirano.Another donor to both Samuels and Altamirano is the Hubbard family. The Hubbards, who run Minnesota media company Hubbard Broadcasting, gave $2600 to each candidate in September 2014. Hubbard Broadcasting, the corporation, is a very politically active one: the company recently gave $200,000 to the Freedom Partners Action Fund, which is the Koch Brothers’ new super PAC.Other prominent supporters of Samuels and Altamirano include former Minnesota Republican party chair Rob Eibensteiner, who gave $1,000 to Samuels, and local attorney and MinnCAN board member Mike Ciresi, who gave $1,000 to each candidate, individually, and contributed $10,000 to the recently controversial group the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund, which has been campaigning for Samuels and Altamirano.Benson Whitney, who is the board chair of MinnCAN and a prominent funder of Republican campaigns, also gave $1,000 to both Samuels and Altamirano.These names on Altamirano and Samuels’ campaign reports prompted fellow at-large candidate Ira Jourdain to hold a press conference on Nov. 1. Continue Reading

Are Minneapolis’ school board seats being bought?

Will a seat, or two, on the Minneapolis school board be sold to the highest bidder?The amount of money flowing into the 2014 Minneapolis school board race is enormous, according to the campaign finance reports that were submitted by candidates and various advocacy groups.Of the four at-large candidates running for the two open citywide seats on the school board, Don Samuels has raised the most money, with a total of $65, 103. Next up is Iris Altamirano, who shares the DFL endorsement with incumbent Rebecca Gagnon. Altamirano’s report shows that she has raised over $41,000, which is more than twice as much as Gagnon’s totals. Candidate Ira Jourdain has raised just over $3,000.What may be more interesting is the amount of money from outside of Minnesota that is flowing into the race, through groups such as the 50CAN Action Fund, the Students for Education Reform Action Fund, and a group calling itself the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund (MPEF).While the most recent totals for both the 50CAN Action Fund, which is the advocacy arm of the education reform group MinnCAN, and the Students for Education Reform Action Fund are under $40,000, the MPEF has amassed a huge war chest, to the tune of more than $200,000, according to a campaign finance report filed on Oct. 28.Looking at the reports, the money MPEF has raised is mostly coming from a handful of billionaires and millionaires from outside of Minnesota. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, gave the MPEF $100,000, while California billionaire Arthur Rock gave $90,000.Daniel Sellers, who is the director of MinnCAN and its 501c4 advocacy group, the 50CAN Action Fund, is also the chair of the MPEF. Continue Reading

Not enough time: Following up on school board candidate forums

The November election is less than two weeks away, and for the four at-large candidates for the Minneapolis school board, it’s candidate forum time.This past week, on Oct. 20 and Oct. 24, candidates Iris Altimarno, Rebecca Gagnon, Ira Jourdain, and Don Samuels appeared at forums where all of the questions asked came directly from the audience, on the spot, and were not pre-determined.The Oct. 20 forum was sponsored by a handful of southwest Minneapolis neighborhood associations, such as Fulton, Kingfield, and Lyndale, and held at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Minneapolis City Council member Elizabeth Glidden hosted the Oct. Continue Reading

Don Samuels calls cops over hotdog giveaway

With less than three weeks to go until the Nov. 4 election, Minneapolis school board candidate Don Samuels may have gotten himself in some hot water with a local Northside philanthropic nonprofit.According to a YouTube video and sources from the North Minneapolis-based group NOC (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change), Samuels called the Minneapolis police on Thursday, Oct. 16, asking them to investigate “hot dog sales” in front of NOC’s offices on West Broadway Avenue.Read more of our election coverage here.In the video, a Minneapolis police officer can be seen questioning NOC representatives Mike Griffin and Wintana Melekin, who were stationed in front of NOC’s front door. When the officer asks whether NOC is selling the hot dogs in an attempt to “elicit votes,” Griffin insists they were simply handing out hot dogs for free and asking people to pledge to vote on Nov. 4. Continue Reading