For those wary of long-term politicians, six-term incumbent Judy Farmer is quick to point out what history and connections can do for the Minneapolis Public Schools.
For example, when suburban legislators tried to eliminate a pocket of funding for urban districts earlier this year, suburban school board members and superintendents rallied, saying they didn't want more funding if it came at the expense of Minneapolis schools. Their support, said Farmer, was gained from the relationships she's built over the years from work in metro, state and national education circles.
Educating the broader public about the Minneapolis Public Schools is something she thinks is one of the jobs of a school board member, especially people who directly affect the schools, such as real estate agents and suburban legislators. "It has an impact on people when they go into Roosevelt High School and see 400 Somali students in traditional dress. They don't have that in their schools," Farmer said.
Farmer is known as a diligent professional and expert politician. Susan Eyestone, a parent, member of the Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee, and Farmer’s campaign manager, said Farmer "goes for the do-able, rather than try to get everything she wants. She works within the system and cuts a compromise," said Eyestone.
Farmer topped all candidates in the Sept. 10 primary, 6 percentage points higher than her nearest challenger. "When I come in first, other politicians don't understand why I run so hard," she said. "Well, part of it is that I want to win, and part of it is because it's an opportunity to be able to listen to people and educate people about the system," said Farmer.
A civil rights activist in her earlier years, Farmer was not an early community schools supporter.
"Partly I got the feeling if this society believes in an integrated society, then the adults need to take part of the responsibility. "
But, seeing widespread support for the change, and the financial necessity, Farmer has adapted.
"If the adults aren't willing to try integrating housing, should it all be left to the schools?" she said. "You can still believe that an integrated school is the best. You have to change as situations change, but it doesn't mean that you abandon your principals or your longterm goals, but find different ways to get there."
She now focuses on getting more college preparatory classes into more lower-performing high schools. She said, "Number one, teachers discover some of the kids they would never dream of taking advanced classes can do just fine. And that gives them evidence that all kids can learn well. Teachers say it, but deep down, there's a lot of latent racism because they don't see International Baccalaureate when they see certain kids."
Though she's spent a career as a teacher, a parent and a school board member, she said the reason why she wanted to stay on the school board is to lead a citywide budget discussion outside of the administration. "I've never been at a meeting where parents are in attendance that the parents don't think of good ideas that never occurred to the administration," said Farmer.
Eyestone said that it's good Farmer is beginning the planning process, because it is long overdue. "There's a real question about whether we can continue doing what we are doing, offering as many choices as we do with the kind of budget we have," said Eyestone.
Eyestone believes that the Minneapolis cuts must be made by a larger planning process, one that will take more time than they have before state cuts hit.
"I think the current board is sincere when they say they want to start planning, but I don't think they have any idea of how much work and time it will take, otherwise they would have started a long time ago," said Eyestone.
David Jennings, the Chief Operating Officer for the Minneapolis Public Schools disagreed. He said the Board will have enough time to create a long-term plan for the schools. He also said there is a distinction between what the Board does and what the administration is responsible for.
"The Board concerns itself with policy-level decision making with a focus rate on outcomes. They tell the Superintendent, this is what we want, and they give her a lot of discretion on how to get there," said Jennings.
Farmer said that a broad discussion might lead to something more than financial cuts. "I think having that kind of planning effort lets you do some things that you wouldn't have done otherwise. That's what you've got to do, make the end goal so enticing that people don't notice the pain," Farmer said.
JUDY FARMER Address: 147 Cecil St S.E., 55414 Phone: 379-7429 E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.farmerforschools.com Occupation: School Board Member Family: Married, two children, graduates of South High School Endorsements: Minneapolis Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, MN DFL, Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council, AFL-CIO, Minneapolis Building & Construction Trades Council, Minnesota Teamsters Joint Council #32, D.R.I.V.E., Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, MFT-Local 59, Service Employees International Union, SEIU-Locals 26, 63, 284, Stonewall DFL Caucus and the DFL Feminist Caucus.