Talking education and budget in Minneapolis


About 80 people crammed into Riverview Café in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon to voice their concerns on education issues, including the governor’s recent budget proposals. Parents, teachers, and students heard from and spoke to State Representative Jim Davnie, State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, and Minneapolis School Board Director Pam Costain.

Jim Davnie, who sits on the K-12 Education Finance Division and K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committees, said he could guarantee that the governor’s budget proposal would not go into law as it is written. Davnie passed out a flier that laid out the governor’s plan, which increases K-12 spending by expanding Pay for Performance and alternative teacher compensation programs, but decreases Early Childhood Education and child care programs. Davnie said he was concerned that the governor’s slashing of human services programs would have an enormous effect on the education of Minnesota’s youth as a whole. “Here’s the challenge,” Davnie said. “Which is more important? That a child has new textbooks, or that his family doesn’t have health care?”

Pam Costain said that Minneapolis Public Schools had unique issues because 65% of the students live in poverty. She said that the school board was working on ways to streamline the economic plan without compromising academics. Cost-cutting measures being considered include closing some schools and a voluntary pay cut to the superintendant’s salary.

Costain said that the federal stimulus money is both good and bad news. She said it’s possible that the governor could try to withhold money from schools because there is stimulus funding. She also said that since the stimulus money is only for two years, it has to be spent wisely.

Senator Patricia Torres Ray also warned about reliance on the stimulus money. “We need to invest in technology, training. We have to be cautious, but we have an opportunity,” Torres Ray said.

A number of educators and parents at the meeting said they were concerned with early education. Lisa Balke, who taught ESL for 25 years, said that the poverty effect could be erased by early childhood education.

Other issues raised included testing, busing, and taxes. A number of teachers were unhappy with the testing requirements, saying that both the tests and the training for the tests took away from valuable classroom time. Other parents said that it was wasteful to spend so much money on busing kids to all different parts of the city. Amy Brew, a parent, asked the legislators to raise taxes. She also warned against pitting health and human services against education.

Alejandra Tobar-Alatriz, an organizer for Latinos en Acción, encouraged the legislators to bring leadership from diverse community-based organizations into the discussions. Tobar-Alatriz also suggested that the young people at the meeting speak up.

This prompted Willa, a junior from South High School, to say she was frustrated by the apathy of her peers, and the discouragement of her teachers. Choked up by tears, Willa continued, “Education is not being valued, but it’s one of the most important things we can do.”

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.