Voters to decide school board election change
After a surprising reversal by one of its members, the Board of Education left it to voters to decide whether school board members should be elected by district.
On a narrow 4–3 vote, the board moved Dec. 11 not to adopt the measures of the so-called "Davnie Bill," which would increase the board’s size from seven to nine members, including three at-large members and six district representatives. Currently, all Minneapolis school board members serve at-large.
The 2006 bill named for state Sen. Jim Davnie (DFL-62A), its author, called for voters to decide on the question if the Minneapolis school board did not comply with the bill. It will appear on the ballot in 2008.
Board Member T. Williams, who previously supported the motion, said he was persuaded by the arguments of fellow board members and cast the deciding vote against the motion.
"I expect my e-mail … box to be filled up with people who are disappointed at my being a turncoat," Williams said after revealing his change of heart.
Board members Lydia Lee and Sharon Henry-Blythe led the attack on the motion, joined by Board Chairwoman Pam Costain and Williams. Board members Tom Madden, Chris Stewart and Peggy Flanagan voted in favor of the motion.
Henry-Blythe warned that board members elected by district might act "parochially" instead of representing all children in Minneapolis. She added that leaving such a major decision up to seven people was "arrogance at its height, in my opinion."
Lee said the additional members would make it harder for the board to reach consensus. Few major, urban districts have boards as large as nine members, she said.
"We can get a lot more done with fewer people," she said. "I think that we should downsize to five [members]."
Lee also spoke to the importance of "stability" on the board as the district prepared to act on its long-term strategic plan, approved earlier in the meeting.
Madden, who made the motion in support of the Davnie Bill, argued that a larger board could better manage its many
"One of the benefits of this bill, in my mind, is it divvies up the job, somewhat," he said. "… We have endless community meetings that we’re all invited to and the majority of them none of us can make."
Madden praised the board’s diversity but noted that, as balanced as it was in many respects, there was no representative from Northeast Minneapolis.
"We got it right racially, we got it right gender-wise, we got it right professionally, but we missed a whole quadrant of the city," he said.
Flanagan said representation by district would "increase the responsiveness of this board," giving students, parents and teachers a specific representative to approach with questions or concerns about their part of the city.
Both Stewart and Madden argued that citywide election of school board members gave too much weight to the mostly white residents of South and Southwest, who turn out in large numbers for elections.
"Let’s just face it: There’s a complete monopoly in this city on the process and how you become elected to this board," Stewart said. "I saw it when I ran, and it changed my mind on the Davnie Bill."
If approved by Minneapolis voters next fall, the changes described in the Davnie Bill would go into effect in 2010.
PreK–8 School Choice Fair
The Minneapolis Public Schools prekindergarten through 8th grade School Choice Fair is 9 a.m.-–2 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1300 Nicollet Mall.
Parents of students who will enter prekindergarten, kindergarten or middle school in fall 2008 are especially encouraged to attend. District staff and members of district schools will be on hand to answer questions and assist parents in the school-selection process.
PreK–8 school choice request cards are due Feb. 29.
Area C Parent Forum meeting
WINDOM — The next Area C Parent Forum meeting is 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Windom Spanish Dual Immersion and Open School, 5821 Wentworth Ave. S.