Minneapolis school board: Transition to districts


Question #1: This year’s school board election is the first that will elect board members largely by district,  while transitioning to the park board concept of 6 members elected by district and 3 at large.  In  addition, the 2010 census results will necessitate redistricting in order to balance population by  district.  What are the major challenges you will face as a potential Board member in the  transition from a 7- to a 9-member board, and what should be the Board’s role in the redistricting process during 2011?

The MPS Parents Forum has posed a number of questions to all school board candidates and then published their responses on the forum. Thanks to the MPS Parents Forum for agreeing that the TC Daily Planet may republish these responses.

At Large, City-Wide (2 seats open)

Chanda Baker

I believe the transition of the school board to the park board concept of 6 members elected by district and 3 at large is a good step in the right direction.  Historically, there has been general concern expressed regarding the geographical, ethnic and cultural representation on the board.   The new structure addresses the geographical concern and I believe it will result in increased diversity of candidates.  In this transition, there may be some challenges for those in the district seats to strike the right balance between members representing their park board districts and representing district-wide.   This challenge extends beyond the board into the community.  Board members will have to communicate effectively with constituents in their district, specifically on any decisions that may appear not to be the best choice for their park district.  Overall, I believe the transition will be positive and that all of the candidates are committed to working together to address the many challenges, to celebrate and acknowledge the successes, to build partnerships with stakeholders, and to provide transparent communication to the community. It will require leadership and team building for effective governance. My background in organizational development, governance, and change management will serve the board well in this transition.  

Regarding the 2010 census and redistricting, the board will have a hand in the redistricting process.  The school board should work to ensure that the districts will equitable distribution of students. It is also extremely important that all members understand and are informed about the issues and challenges facing each district.  This is important not only in the redistricting process.  It is important is the overall decision making and leadership that is necessary.   

It is my hope that the increase number of school board members will help bring more diversity in experience and will help distribute the work load of school board members.   

Chanda Baker

At-Large Candidate

David DeGrio

The most difficult part of transitioning from a 7 to 9 member board will be the interim 2 years where the Board is an 8 member body.  If one looks at previous Boards, coalitions tend to develop amongst Board members and cause divisiveness.  With an 8 member Board we run the risk of having 4-4 votes and stalemating the process and creating division on the Board.

To avoid developing static coalitions, I will be a Board member who comes to each decision based upon the data and facts at hand and will work to build a majority/consensus on decisions.

Additionally, as the East side of the City will have elected representation and the West side will only be electing  At-Large representation, it is imperative that I be a voice of accountability on the Board to ensure that the needs of ALL parts of the City are addressed during discussion, debate and decision making.   

The redistricting role of the Board is outlined in the legislation that changed the make-up of our Board.   We are obligated to set districts that are “as equal in population as practicable and composed of compact, contiguous territory (Laws of MN, Ch. 239, Sec. 1, Subd. 2).”  I would advocate, at this point, to keep the District boundaries contiguous with the Park Board boundaries.  I am open to hearing about other or better options, but for the sake of continuity we should try to keep it the same.

David DeGrio (original post was unsigned)

Richard Mammen

I’m running for one of the two at-large seats so the change from a totally citywide body to a combination of district and at-large seats doesn’t alter my perspective on governance. I intend to focus on the school district as a whole, while respecting that it is made up of many constituencies and communities – geographical, cultural, political, economic and otherwise. Working with my board colleagues to balance those needs and agendas while pushing the whole district forward will be a challenge for all of us, just as it is within the current structure.   Greater collaboration with other public agencies is a major theme of my campaign and I believe that I bring some valuable insights to the board structural transition. As director of citywide Community Recreation for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) the past 4+ years, I’ve enjoyed as strong a working relationship with the six MPRB district commissioners as with the three at-large commissioners. While district commissioners frequently “own” neighborhood and district interests, generally the board’s collective principle of equity and a mutual commitment to the MPRB mission and the whole city ultimately balances policies, staff direction and results. In the end, each of the nine has the same numbers of votes.

I also see some opportunities for efficiencies and greater effectiveness. Few people realize that the three MPRB service districts (River, Minnehaha and Lakes – each consisting of two commissioner districts) are 90% in synch with the three MPS areas (A, B & C) and the attendance areas defined by the CSO plan. Aligning our park district managers with MPRB district commissioners provides clearer communications protocols and localized problem-solving. As staff, we’re already working with MPS leaders on better coordinating programs, services and operations. New collaborative policies should be in place before the end of the year. I’d hope that the district board members, MPRB members and corresponding city council members find ways to relate more directly with each other within the districts as well as citywide. If we understand and respect each other’s goals, issues and capacities and address neighborhood and community constituents in a more cohesive and supportive fashion, we will enhance public engagement, better share resources and increase public trust.

Lastly, I suspect that the process of reapportionment and ward/district boundary setting by census track will be decided by a higher power than the school board. I believe the district court oversaw this after the 2000 census. Then, a redistricting commission was formed with appointments made by each of the governmental bodies affected. The park board had two appointees (Tony Scallon and Scott Nieman) who contributed recommendations which shaped the current MPRB election districts. I imagine that the school board will be afforded an equal or greater amount of appointed representation on the future commission. We will have to work proactively and honestly with our elected colleagues at the MPRB and city to ensure a fair and functional balance that works for the public good.

Thank you for this opportunity. Richard Mammen

Dick Velner

Changing District boundaries or the member size of the Board does not bother me.  My issue is a matter of thinking my truth and speaking my truth.

I have but One Voice and One Vote.  It would make it much easier if I were representing a geographical area than taking care or representing the entire District.  We now live in a wonderful age of technological communication where people can voice their concerns or satisfaction by a few simple key strokes for all to read.  The more people I can view or meet the better the system will work.  With a smaller geography I could more completely cover a neighborhood; some people are more comfortable speaking face-to-face than broadcasting to the world.

My sadness comes when people will not engage.  My experience with Russian people who for many years had to live in a totalitarian state are just now beginning to understand our freedom to speak, to voice our ideas.  I was at a Parent/Community meeting last night at Edison HS concerning their school issues but there were many more District people attending than parents or community.  Sad.

Dick Velner – Grandparent, Teacher, Curriculum Principal and School Board Candidate.  

T Williams

Transitioning from 7 members to 9 members will require the board to stay focused on being a board that represents all of Minneapolis schools and not just those in a particular geographic area. Changes in board size will affect how it organizes to conduct business. It is critical that the board participate in redistricting discussions.  

It may not be in the best interest of the schools to continue to have school districts be coterminus with those of the parks. Families with school age children are not equally distributed across the city in the various park districts. Currently schools are located essentialy in 4 park districts. New boundaries will be needed.

T. Williams

At-Large Candidate  

District 1 (1 seat open)  

Jenny Arneson:

As a candidate running for the District 1 seat (NE and SE), I believe these seats play an important role in linking community and school policy. School board policy directly impacts our communities; board members should be confident that they understand the unique needs of our very diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis. I believe in community driven policy. That means being engaged with parents, teachers, students and the broader neighborhood. It brings that knowledge and experience to the board so policy can reflect a community perspective. Community driven policy starts with community needs and figures out how best to serve those needs. When this occurs, we don’t need to respond over and over again about the misfit of a new “initiative” or construction plans. We are confident that we have someone on the board who understands because they are part of the community.   Does this mean that district representatives put their own community needs above others? No. Each school board director continues to work on behalf of the entire city, and must make decisions based on what is best for the district as a whole. As a district representative I want to bring an in-depth knowledge and perspective of the areas I represent to the board and I will turn to the representatives from other districts for their greater knowledge of their own communities. One of the challenges during this time of transition is that not all district representatives are being elected this year. That demands that those on the board be more vigilant about reaching into those communities to make sure we understand their needs. This is a different way of managing than is currently delivered by our administration, but it is the school board’s responsibility to hold the superintendent accountable for carrying out this method of policy delivery.   With a total of 8 school members after this election, an immediate challenge is that there may be no majority on some votes. That means that instead of relying on a straight majority vote, the board may need to dig deeper to reach a compromise. Again, it is community input that should drive that reflection period.   As for the board’s role in redistricting, it is important that park board and school board districts are consistent to reduce confusion of citizens during election times. It is my hope that the districts can be drawn so that population is equal in all and natural neighborhood and geographic boundaries are not divided.  

Jenny Arneson, Candidate for District 1



Cell: 612-201-2685

Marcia Thomas

A major challenge of the transition from a 7 to a 9 member board will occur from 2010 to 2012. During these years the board will have eight members, an even number. It will be critical that board members cooperate and work together to effectively move the district forward. Board members will need to represent the voters in their district and their constituents throughout the city. Therefore, it is crucial that board members build coalitions to work toward a common goal. It is necessary that new member orientation is thorough and relevant so new board members can begin serving in a collaborative fashion as quickly as possible.

As a result of the census, the Minneapolis school board election district maps will be redone. It is important that the school board has input in this process and its result. A sensible approach is to appoint two representatives to the  commission so that the interests of the school district are included in the decision making process. As I speak with voters I have heard much confusion about various areas and boundaries including transportation zones, district areas (Areas A,B,and C), school communities and election districts. It is essential that the appointed representatives have a clear understanding of the composition of the Minneapolis school district and it’s communities. The two appointed representatives must work in conjunction and collaboration with the other commission members to ensure a fair and objective redistricting process.  

Marcia Thomas

School Board Candidate: District 1  

District 3 (1 seat open)

Hussein Samatar

First, thank you for this opportunity to express my thoughts in how to educate each student in the district. And also thank you for your thoughtfulness in crafting the questions and giving us time to respond.  For me this is the first time that I am running for an elected office, and the new system is the only arrangement of governance that I know, will know and will operate under. Therefore, I will do whatever I can to make it work for our students, parents, teachers, administrators and my board colleagues whom I will be working with if I am elected in this coming November.  

Change is never easy, buy change is constant in our private and public life for sure. And this new arrangement is definitely different on how we used to elect the MPS Board members. I for one don’t believe because we’ve changed the way we elect the board, and we’ve increased the size of the board to 9 from 7 should present challenges that the new board can’t deal with. If the bottom line for the board come January 2011 is the belief that every child can learn, and each child must get a world-class education, then we should find ways to reach our goal harmoniously.  

I believe the new system is a better way to elect the MPS Board members. It will allow at least 6 board members to know intimately about their district while they are responsible in making  MPS function as one system – not a fragmented district. I also believe within the new system we can address systematically the equity gap that does exist in the district currently.   The MPS Board has very limited role and say on the redistricting process. The only thing I know that board can do and should do is to educate the parents on the impact of the redistricting on their schools and children.  The responsibility for redistricting is yet to be  determined. I will remain open to good ideas, wherever they come from. Among the ideas we might consider are:

1-   The district’s decision to create three areas – A, B and C. Each could contain the districts of two board members.  

2-   The location of the high schools

3-   The needs of our students

4-   The possibility of doing districts consistent with the Park Board districts.  

With good intentions, I believe we can create districts that allow for good representation of all our citizens.  


Hussein Samatar

MPS Board Candidate – District 3  

web: samatarforschoolboard.org  

District 5 (1 seat open)

Alberto Monserrate

I feel the transition from a 7 to a 9 member board is a positive one. More board members, six of them elected from districts, means more democratic representation, and potentially more ethnic, geographic , professional background, and opinion diversity on the board. I feared originally that district representation would bring parochialism to the board, but the current district candidates have shown that they will represent their districts, but also represent the interests of all children in the district. Ideally I believe that redistricting should simply divide the six districts by splitting evenly by census count, and leave board electoral politics out of it. The more board members are involved, the more politics will enter the decisions.  

I’ve heard many comments over the past couple of months that the work load for part time board members, in a board that was intended to require 10 hours of work a week, has grown unsustainable, growing to a work load closer to 30 hours a week. Increasing the number of board members from 7 to 8 in 2011 and to 9 members in 2013, will potentially better spread this work load. But the board also must make sure that if focuses on being a governing board and not a managing board if it wants to continue to be effective. The MPS board must focus on district policy, setting a strategic plan for the district, hiring a Superintendent, setting annual budgets, and approving employee contracts. Once those are set the board needs to set clear expectations and goals for the Superintendent and make sure those goals are being monitored and met. It also needs to ensure that the strategic plan is being implemented according to plan, budgets are being implemented according to plan, and employee contracts are being enforced as intended.  

The board must lead the administrative staff, and not simply rubber stamp staff recommendations, but at the same time not micromanage its staff. I feel if  the board focuses more clearly on these goals, the board will find it’s work load sustainable and it will be more effective. It will also allow the board to also better focus, so it can plan more effectively and better avoid negative unintended consequences of their policy decisions and on planning a future vision for the district where all our students can learn to the best of their ability, rather than constantly putting out fires. The biggest challenge for the next board is to bring stability to the district in the middle of the boards and the districts current transitions. MPS stakeholders: The students, teachers, staff, parents and community members, are simply burnt out from all the changes, finger pointing and blaming, past Superintendent turn over, dramatic enrollment reductions, inadequate funding from the state, unsustainable unfocused mandates for teachers, layoffs, budget cuts, changing school options consequences, an unhealthy relationship between MPS leadership and its unions…. over the past years. The current board has done a lot of heavy lifting to bring stability to the district over the past few years. But the new board will need to to much more. It will need to get better focused so it can lead, instead of constanlty having to react.  

Alberto Monserrate
Candidate for Minneapolis School Board
District 5
Facebook: www.facebook.com/albertomonserrateschool
Twitter: http://twitter.com/albertolcnmedia