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.
Pam Costain: Why I will not run
With all this progress and the enthusiasm I feel for the new superintendent, why would I not run for re-election? The fact is I can no longer afford to be a school board member. The combined salary and expense stipend of less than $14,000 a year does not even cover the cost of my health care and professional expenses, let alone provide a modest wage. While others have managed to work this out differently, I personally have not figured out how to do the job with anything less than a full-time commitment. School board directors spend countless hours reading and preparing for meetings, attending community and neighborhood events, visiting schools, talking to constituents, staying current with local, state and federal policy debates, meeting with other community and political leaders and serving on boards with other jurisdictions. We also answer all of our own emails, letters and calls.
Wages for school board members have not increased in more than 20 years. Despite the tremendous challenges of governing an urban school district, the job of a school board member is still viewed as essentially a part-time, volunteer commitment. Operating from a model that is at least fifty years old, governance of our schools is seriously out of date in my opinion. I hope the citizens of Minneapolis will begin to discuss governance of the school district and the expectations we place on those who serve.
There is one more reason I will not be running again. There is climate of negativity and blame that surrounds urban public education, and it has taken a toll on me. The negativity is both external (the Governor and other politicians’ favorite sport is bashing the Minneapolis Public Schools), and it is internal (parents, teachers, board members, administrators and the community spend far too much time pointing fingers at one other). I do not believe we can make the breakthroughs we need in our district without stronger unity and a mutual commitment to problem-solving on behalf of the children. Those of us who believe in urban public education must learn how to disagree, without wounding and insulting one other. We are allies, not opponents. There are plenty of people who do not support public education; those of us who do must learn new ways to move forward.
With the additional seat, and the announcements by current board members Chris Stewart, Tom Madden, and Pam Costain (see excerpt from her statement in sidebar, full statement here) that they will not seek re-election, a handful of fresh faces will be on the ballot. Incumbent T. Williams has said he will run for re-election to an at-large seat.
However, Williams is not alone. Other candidates for the two at-large seats include:
- Richard Mammen, the founding executive director of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board and the present director of Recreation Services for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation;
- David Joseph DeGrio, a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system chemistry professor who previously ran as an Independence Party candidate for State House 59A in 2008;
- Doug Mann, a substitute Educational Associate or instructional assistant in the Edina Public School system
Of the three geographical election districts, District 1 is the only competitive race at this point. Marcia Thomas, who works for the University of Minnesota and is currently a parent representative on the Northeast Middle School Building Leadership Team Committee and a parent representative on the Pillsbury School Site Council, faces Jenny Arneson. Arneson is a former Minneapolis Public Schools employee who taught social skills groups for children throughout the district, and also led the Waite Park Community School PTA and has been an active member of Public Education Northeast.
In District 3, Hussein Samatar is currently the only candidate. The founder and executive director of the African Development Center. Samatar is a Somali native who came to Minnesota in 1994. He serves on the boards of the Minneapolis Foundation, CommonBond Communities, and the Dean’s Advisory Board of the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.
Alberto Monserrate, the CEO and president of Latino Communications Network, is running unopposed in District 5. Monserrate moved from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Minnesota in 1984 to pursue a degree from the University of Minnesota.
Most candidates we spoke to saw the new school board set-up and expansion as a positive for Minneapolis schools. Citing factors ranging from diversity of representation to a more community-based focus, many were excited for the future of the Minneapolis Board of Education.
“I hope the new system will make the board more diverse and inclusive,” said Monserrate. “The district candidates that I’ve met have also demonstrated to me that they care as much about the issues of the entire school district, as much as the city wide candidates.”
However, with those hopes for better representation and diversity on the board, many candidates pointed out that it could lead to some unforeseen issues as well.
“I am excited about the new school boad election system. I believe district representation will give folks easier access to school board directors and create an opportunity to hear the perspectives of communities throughout Minneapolis,” said Thomas. “However, there is also a danger that district representation could lead to the election of school board directors who are only able to work for the interests of a small geographical area.”
Current Board of Education
Carla Bates (term expires 2013)
In the end, optimism prevailed for the candidates. “I would not even be running had it not been for the new system,” said Samatar. “I believe that I can have a bigger impact.”
For many of the candidates, the next big step will be the Minneapolis DFL endorsing convention, tentatively set for May 22. Peter Tharaldson, the 5th Congressional District chair for the Independence Party of Minnesota said that they tend to do endorsements for local non-partisan races closer to the filing date. Requests to the Minneapolis City Republican Committee for comment went unanswered.