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Another Option for Minneapolis School Board Voters (2004 General Election)
[Below is a 500 word commentary that was professionally edited and submitted to the Star Tribune for Publication on October 28, 2004. The Star Tribune will not publish it. Please circulate widely. ]

This coming election day, Minneapolis voters actually have more choices for the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Directors than just the six candidates on the ballot.   

If you are having trouble finding a third candidate to round out your ballot, consider writing in Doug Mann for Minneapolis School Board.  My platform is as follows:

By now, everyone knows about the Minneapolis Public Schools' education access gap, reflected by differences in test score averages between white and minority students.  The current board has, to its credit, expressed concern about the fact that on average, schools with high proportions of students of color and low-income students have both a high rate of teacher turnover and a high proportion of the district's least experienced teachers.

I maintain that these high teacher turnover rates are largely due to the district's yearly practice of laying off teachers that it (in actuality) plans to later rehire or replace.

Last spring, the district laid off 608 teachers even though it projected a reduction of fewer than 200 full-time teacher positions.  The district essentially uses annual layoffs to hold down payroll costs, knowing that many laid-off teachers will seek jobs elsewhere or be discouraged from returning to teaching.  This strategy may save money in the short-run, but its long-term costs are devastating: Programs that depend on stability of staff are undermined and the resultant price paid by the schools, teachers, students and families is ultimately too high.  

I disagree with the current board that the realignment mess was unavoidable and am opposed to the unnecessary layoff of so many teachers. I also believe it is necessary to equally distribute probationary teacher positions throughout the district. This and other major changes in school programs should be phased-in to avoid the kind of disruption to school staffs and families wrought by last summer's realignment (which I vigorously opposed).

Unbeknownst to many people, the district also has a tracking system. As early as kindergarten, students are assigned to separate classrooms on at least a part-time basis for reading instruction, according to whether they are considered slow, medium or fast learners. Students of color and low-income whites are over-represented in the low-performer classes. Most students on a college-bound track in this district do very well academically. A huge majority of the other students fail to thrive.

In my opinion, the district could phase out the low-performance curriculum tracks and put everyone on a college-bound track without watering down the curriculum if it also stabilizes the teaching staff.  Without tracking, small schools can be made more cost-effective. Eliminate tracking, not small schools!  You can read more about these and other insights on Minneapolis Public Schools at www.educationright.com.  On November 2, let's increase expectations of our students and of our school Board.

Doug Mann, write in candidate for the Minneapolis School Board