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Star-Tribune voters guide essay & editorial board questionnaire
Write-in "Doug Mann" for School Board
by Doug Mann, 29 Oct 2004, Submitted to the Star-Tribune for publication 28 Oct 2004
Subj: [Mpls] Strib voters guide essay & editorial board questionnaire
Date: 8/25/2004 8:36:04 AM Central Daylight Time
STRIB VOTERS GUIDE ESSAY (Doug Mann)
Education is a right, not a privilege! In my opinion, the district can make a college-bound education accessible to the general student population and make small schools cost effective by eliminating tracking. Instead, K-6 students are assigned to classes for reading instruction according to perceived ability: "High ability" students acquire college-bound reading skills; most other students fail to thrive academically. Other problems: Rookie teachers assigned to poor performing schools; excessive, extralegal teacher layoffs and reassignments; no teacher evaluation and improvement process focused on boosting academic achievement. The public is denied essential information and opportunities for input.
QUESTIONS FROM STRIB EDITORIAL BOARD AND ANSWERS
1. Why are you running for the Minneapolis school board? What skills, experience or other expertise would you bring to the position? Have you run for elected office before or worked on any candidate's campaign?
In my opinion, small K-8 schools could be cost effective, and a high-quality, college-bound education could be made accessible to the general student population if the district eliminated tracking. Differences in academic achievement between schools can be explained, in large part, as an effect of tracking and the overexposure of students to inexperienced teachers in schools serving high-poverty, high minority neighborhoods.
I have attended or listened to broadcasts of a majority of the board meetings held since the fall of 1997. I have analyzed data on student achievement and enrollment. I have intensively reviewed the teacher tenure act and much of the teachers' contract within the past few years in response to complaints from teachers about personnel actions, especially involuntary reassignments. I have also received complaints from parents about teachers, teaching practices, and the district administration (I have referred some parents to Evelyn Eubanks,
who is a trained advocate).
2. Are you endorsed by a political party? Which one? Any other endorsements?
I have personal endorsements from: Ron Edwards (longest serving chairman of the board of the Minneapolis Urban League), Evelyn Eubanks (former citywide Parent Teacher Association president), Alfred Flowers (community representative on the federal mediation team that recently worked out an agreement with the
Minneapolis Police Department to take steps to curb police brutality), Travis Lee (20 years service as a youth advocate, campaign manager for wife, city council member Natalie Johnson Lee), and Pamela Taylor (served on the Wilder Early Childhood Education Leadership Team and was a school board candidate in 1999 endorsed by the Reform Party and progressive Minnesota).
3. How would you describe the school board's role and how would you do the job?
The school board is a governing body that sets policy and oversees the administration of the schools. I want complete information related to plans and policy decisions to be made available to the board and general public in a timely fashion. I want to make the decision-making process more open, with opportunities for input from the public before decisions are made.
4. The Minneapolis school system faces several major challenges, including the achievement gap, declining enrollment and possible school closings. How would you address each of those issues?
I believe that much of the achievement gap is a reflection of how the system is set up, especially the effects of tracking and the overexposure of students in some schools to inexperienced teachers.
Declining enrollment is mostly a consequence of students opting out, or being forced out of the district-run schools. The number of school age children residing in Minneapolis has not dramatically declined: there has been a shift in the student population from the Minneapolis Public Schools to charter schools, private schools, and suburban public schools. Access to a public education of reasonable quality is also a consideration for many people with school age children who have moved from Minneapolis to the suburbs.
5. The district is also having financial woes; the board has cut the budget by millions during the past several years and has reduced staff by more than 1,000 positions during the same period. As a board member, what would your approach be to budget issues?
I am opposed to the way that the district administration has reduced the size of its teaching staff. The district has been laying off teachers before going through a process to determine who gets laid off, and an excessive number of teachers are getting laid off. The district has the information necessary to do the teacher assignments for the new academic year by April 1. Teachers who do not plan to continue their employment with the district are expected to resign by April 1. School assignments for most students are determined before
April 1. The Teacher Tenure Act requires the district to send out lay off notices no later than June 30.
This district is not obligated to make seniority the only criteria that it uses to determine who gets laid off, especially with respect to probationary teachers. The district is obligated to take reasonable steps to preserve the employment of tenured teachers, including "realignments." However, the district is not legally required to "realign" any teachers in order to preserve the employment of probationary teachers.
6. Some parents and teachers are up in arms over the "realignment'' of teachers. How should that issue be addressed?
The realignments should be rescinded, immediately. There should be an official inquiry. I believe that the district administration's actions were designed to further a political agenda, especially to win support for "reform of the
teacher tenure act." I have asked the superintendent to make available complete information related to the teacher layoffs and realignments, including the number of resignations received by April 1 (and later) and the number of probationary teachers, broken down by area (e.g., elementary classroom, Special Ed, etc.)