Schools at stake: Minneapolis open seats on school board


Voters in next month’s Minneapolis school board election will see something new on the ballot. After approving a referendum in 2008 that gradually expands the school board from seven to nine members, they now will see school board candidates running for seats based on geographic districts as well as citywide seats. 

This year, that means there will be three district-based seats on the ballot, as well as two at-large seats, as the board grows to eight members. In 2012, a ninth member will be added as three more district-based seats and one at-large seat will be on the ballot.

A second article will look at the district-based school board races.

From a crowded, 10-candidate field, four finalists emerged from the August primary to contend for the two at-large school board seats.

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Citywide Recreation Director Richard Mammen emerged with almost 22 percent of the vote to lead the field, with Minneapolis Parent Advisory Council member Rebecca Gagnon, nonprofit Pillsbury United Communities’ Chief Learning Officer Chanda Smith Baker and incumbent school board member Theatrice “T.” Williams all receiving between 12 and 15 percent.

In the three district seat contests, nonprofit community organizer Hussein Samatar is running unopposed for a southside district seat and looks to become the first Somali-born member of the school board.

Latino media entrepreneur Alberto Monserrate is a prohibitive favorite to win another southside district seat against silent candidate John Saulsberry. And parent and school activist Jenny Arneson and laid-off Minneapolis teacher Mike Endrizzi face off for a northeast Minneapolis district seat.

The school district race will not use an instant-runoff, or ranked-preference voting system implemented in city elections last year.

T. Williams

The only incumbent up for re-election to the school board this year, Williams was elected to his first term in 2007 but nevertheless came in fourth in the August primary.

A Mississippi native and former Senior Fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, Williams is one of two African-American on a school board that oversees a district that has a plurality of African-American students, but fellow incumbent Chris Stewart is not seeking re-election.

He has the support of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and five City Council members, including Council President Barb Johnson, plus four current school board members including Board Chairman Tom Madden.

In a written response to questions about the school district’s achievement gap from the DFL Education Foundation, Williams favored changing the school day or calendar to allow more “time on task,” called for more accountability and training for teachers who deal with the diverse student body, more resources and new strategies to increase student retention and attendance.

Chanda Smith Baker

The niece of Richard Green, Minneapolis’ first black school superintendent, Baker claims experience directly overseeing 15 charter schools within the Pillsbury United Communities and is a board member of the Center for School Change Leadership.

She has received endorsements from the Service Employees International Union, Stonewall DFL, the African-American Leadership Forum and the Women Winning political action committee, as well as Minneapolis school board members Carla Bates and Chris Stewart..

Baker emphasizes the need for multiple measures of student success, the need for more parent and community partnerships with schools and early, high-quality learning opportunities that respect the district’s diversity.

In her response to the DFL Education Foundation’s questionnaire, she questions whether seniority is the best measure for determining teacher assignment and retention, supports the current board’s move toward self-governed schools, but criticizes the “instability, micromanagement and often plain incompetence” of past school boards.

Rebecca Gagnon

Gagnon and her family moved to Minneapolis in 2008 from Austin, Texas, and she lists extensive parent volunteerism in both school districts on her resume, including membership on the Minneapolis District Parent Advisory Council and PTA and Site Council leadership.

She advocates a “whole child” learning approach, decreasing barriers to parental involvement in student learning and continued increased investment in early childhood learning in her campaign.

Gagnon lists Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein and Minneapolis City Council member Kevin Reich among her supporters.

In her response to the DFL Education Foundation questionnaire, she said that test scores are not a good way to gauge student performance, calls for more teaching differentiation within classrooms and calls for better school board diligence in “tracking the success (or failure) of the programs we implement and the teachers and staff that we hire.”

Richard Mammen

Listing 38 years of public service on his resume, Mammen was the only candidate to receive the DFL Party’s endorsement prior to the August primary and led the field in its results.

His experience includes outreach work with the YMCA in North Minneapolis, founding and directing a contract alternative school serving juvenile offenders known as Katahdin, and director of the Youth Coordinating Board.

His endorsements include U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a laundry list of Hennepin County and City of Minneapolis elected officials, Minneapolis DFL legislators and current school board candidates Jenny Arneson, Hussein Samatar and Alberto Monserrate.

In the DFL Education Foundation questionnaire response, Mammen calls for continued implementation of the Changing School Options plan, continued incremental reform of teacher contracts through negotiation, and increased flexibility for schools to experiment with parent-led, teacher-led and other structural changes.

“One size doesn’t fit all, so we must be flexible and creative,” he said.