Mayors running the schools? Just another distraction


In his State of the State speech, Gov. Tim Pawlenty threw a late-season slider to the education community by suggesting Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors should assume command of their respective school districts.

“I support giving mayors the accountability and full control, and I mean full control, of the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts,” the governor said the day before he left the state for a speech in New Hampshire.

The mayors were flummoxed by the suggestion. School leaders were either silent or scrambled for a response.

The subtext is simple: Pawlenty has no real desire to seek this outcome. He is setting up a phantom issue to distract from the real issue of horrendous education underfunding.

Mayors run the districts in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City and Boston — all highly dysfunctional districts. While they have their faults, St. Paul and Minneapolis schools are nowhere the ones in these cities.

But even if they were, would a mayoral-appointed school board perform better than a freely elected school board or a superintendent named by the mayor? Would Minneapolis, with its weak mayor system, be better served with a school district run by the Minneapolis City Council?

The answer is no.

If Pawlenty were interested in supporting education in Minneapolis and St. Paul, he might start by giving the district enough money to run the districts. This chart by Minnesota 2020 fellow Jeff Van Wychen shows that the Twin Cities have had more than their share of state school aid cuts since 2003. School leaders without enough money to run schools generally have a difficult time keeping school quality at a maximum. The full chart can be found here.

No one need take Pawlenty’s suggestion seriously. The real issue about education now and for the foreseeable future is to get the proper and equitable amount of money to schools. That hasn’t happened under Pawlenty’s watch and it likely won’t happen this year.

This proposal is just a distraction.