Major changes for the School Board

Challenges lie ahead for new members

There are major changes coming to the School Board after an Election Day that swept five new members into office and ended the re-election bid of the only incumbent seeking another term.

The School Board will be larger as it begins an expansion that plays out over two election cycles, but the major issues — budget deficits, a persistent achievement gap, declining enrollment — remain the same. At the same time, an altered state political landscape may mean the district’s ongoing quest for additional funding gets even tougher, current board members said.

Richard Mammen finished first in a four-way race for two at-large School Board seats with 39,047 (30.79 percent) of 126,834 votes cast, according to preliminary election results from Hennepin County. Rebecca Gagnon appeared to take the other seat with 32,349 votes (25.50 percent), but Chanda Smith Baker’s close third-place finish with 31,181 votes (24.58) prompted talk of a recount the morning after Election Day.

Incumbent T. Williams earned 22,889 votes (18.05 percent) to finish fourth.     

Northeast residents overwhelming chose Jenny Arneson to represent District 1 on the board, giving her 9,017 (68.46 percent) of the 13,171 votes cast in that race. Challenger Mike Endrizzi earned only 3,995 votes (30.33 percent) by comparison.

Hussein Samatar became the first Somali immigrant elected to the School Board in Minneapolis — and the first to win any elective office in Minnesota — with 9,266 votes (96.46 percent) in the uncontested District 3 race. In District 5, Alberto Monserrate won with 9,037 votes (57.37 percent) over John Saulsberry’s 6,537 votes (41.50 percent) out of 15,751 votes cast.

This was the first election of School Board members by district since voters approved the change in 2008. Currently a seven-member body with all members serving at-large, the School Board will expand to a nine-member body following the 2012 election, with three members serving at-large and six representing geographic areas based on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board districts.

In the interim, the board will total eight members: the three district and two at-large representatives elected on Nov. 2, plus current School Board members Lydia Lee, Carla Bates and Jill Davis.

Smith Baker considers recount

The morning of Nov. 3, Smith Baker was still weighing her options for a recount.

“I ran hard, I had a lot of people supporting me,” she said. “It’s so close, and with the glitches last night, the recommendation around the table was certainly, everybody who contributed, everyone who’s around would like to see (me) on the board.”

Hennepin County acknowledged a “temporary transmission problem” related to its electronic vote reporting technology, but in a press release issued Nov. 3 reported the miscounting of votes was noticed and corrected on the night of the election.

Elections Manager Rachel Smith said a margin of less than one-half of one percent was needed to trigger an automatic recount in the at-large School Board race. Facing a larger margin, Smith Baker could still request a recount but would have to cover the cost, Smith said.

Major changes

Current School Board members pointed out several important differences between the current board and the one that will convene in January.

With the likely election loss of Smith Baker and the certain loss of Williams, both black residents of the city’s North Side, it will be the first time in four decades the School Board has not included a black member born in the U.S., Williams said.

“I think it’s very important, because of the perceptions,” he said. “The people on the North Side are feeling overlooked, misused, abused and that no on really cares about what happens in North Minneapolis.”

Many North Side residents recently expressed those frustrations in public protests following Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s announcement of plans to phase-out under-performing, under-enrolled North High School.

The largest influx of new members in four years also means the new board will lose much of its collective experience. With the departures of School Board Chair Tom Madden and members Chris Stewart, Peggy Flanagan and Williams, Lee is the only remaining member to have helped former Superintendent Bill Green craft the district’s strategic plan, adopted in 2007.

“It’s going to put an awful lot of responsibility on the incumbents,” Williams said.

A changed landscape

Republicans took control of both branches of the Minnesota Legislature for the first time in decades on Election Day, a surprising reversal that led current board members to predict tough times ahead.

Madden said campaign rhetoric promising a smaller state government did not bode well in the district’s ongoing quest for new funding.

“People are going to be looking everywhere to cut money, and education is the biggest slice of the budget,” he said. “It’s no secret they’ll be looking at education.”

Still, he said the new board must remain focused on district priorities, like closing the achievement gap.

Said Madden: “It doesn’t matter how much money there is or isn’t, we’re still failing kids of color, by-and-large.”