Election 2014: Minneapolis School Board, District 5

Sometimes I do all my research by googling and reading web sites and articles. Other times I have questions I want answered. The problem with asking questions is that I never know how long to wait. On one hand, I don’t want to have to revisit races over and over as responses trickle in. On the other hand, I have both a deadline and a preference for doing things in order.

The other thing that’s hard about questions is that with Minneapolis races, I can no longer truthfully say that I’m trying to make up my mind about who to vote for and leave it at that. And when you tell people that you’re a political blogger trying to decide who to endorse, people get really wary, like they think you’re an absolute nut, at least if they haven’t heard of you.

Anyway, since I’m waiting on responses, it’s possible I’ll have to revisit this one. We’ll see.

The Minneapolis School Board has both at-large seats (there are two open, and four candidates; I wrote about that post already) and Districts (which are the same as the Park Board districts). I was happy when they implemented districts because as a Minneapolis parent who did not live in the bottom left-hand corner of the city I felt rather thoroughly ignored a lot of the time. It was particularly infuriating to drive past the gleaming windows of brand-new schools in Southwest Minneapolis when the district had spent years and years and years letting a closed-down school four blocks from me sit empty. (Not finding a new use for it, not selling it, just letting it sit there.)

They implemented the district-based seats four years ago and in fact almost immediately they came up with something to do with Howe. (They re-opened it, actually — it’s now grades 3-5 for Hiawatha-Howe, with grades K-2 down at Hiawatha. I have mixed feelings about that solution, but whatever, you know what, at least it’s not SITTING THERE EMPTY so I WILL TAKE IT.)

The guy who served as the District 5 school board rep for the last four years decided not to run again because it’s a high-stress full-time job that pays less than $15K/year. The candidates:

NELSON INZ
JAY LARSON

Nelson Inz

Let me just note quickly that if you go to the Secretary of State site and look up candidates, they’ll give you a link for Nelson’s website, but their link is wrong. They send you to a .com site, and it’s a .org site. I e-mailed Nelson’s campaign and suggested they call and have it fixed; I would expect that to be do-able but annoying. As of today, it’s not fixed. Fortunately for Nelson, he is VERY VERY easy to find with Google.

He’s endorsed by the DFL and by a long list of prominent local DFLers, including Jim Davnie (my former State Rep and one of my favorite politicians). There isn’t much on his website about issues, but as noted before, it’s rare that anyone says something in this race that everyone running wouldn’t sign on to.

The thing I found most interesting and startling about Nelson is that he’s a charter school teacher running for a district school board seat. (He’s actually served on a school board in the past — each charter school has its own board that hires and fires school administrators, allocates money from the budget, etc. Frequently some of the seats are reserved for teachers.) And, he’s endorsed by the DFL. I find this startling because charter schools have blown back up into controversy this year — Don Samuels is a fan of charter schools, and this is viewed by a fair number of people in the DFL as a good reason not to support him.

I e-mailed Nelson because I was curious how he was walking this particular line. I asked him to talk about his beliefs about charter schools vs. district-based public schools, and what the thought the Minneapolis school board’s attitude ought to be toward charter schools: partners? rivals? something else? He replied a day later to invite me to call him. I haven’t, because he said evenings were better and my evenings are pretty busy. (I think it’s safe to assume he doesn’t want me ringing him up at 11 p.m., especially given that he has twin toddlers.)

Anyway, I actually have a lot of optimism that someone who works for a charter school but was able to get the DFL endorsement might bring a balanced attitude toward charters. (Or, if he brings a superlatively negative attitude, at least it’ll be from a position of intimate knowledge?)

Jay Larson

Jay Larson is an MPS parent and mentions a lot of volunteering: he chairs the Site Leadership committee at his kids’ school (I’m not actually sure what that does), he’s on the PTA, and he represents Area B on the District Parent Advisory Committee. (I’m not actually sure what the DPAC does, either. When my kids were enrolled at Minneapolis Public schools, one of the things that drove me nuts were the endless robocalls, some of which were for things like the Area B Parent Somethingorother Meeting.)

His platform emphasizes that he’s an MPS parent. (I’ll note that Nelson is a parent, but not of an MPS kid; his twins are still toddlers.) He believes in strong community schools; since that’s kind of a no-brainer, I’m not sure if he’s actually trying to say that magnet schools are a bad idea or what. He wants to “support our awesome teachers.”

He lists no endorsements.

Anyway, I e-mailed him and asked him what he felt set him apart from the other candidate and made him different. He replied fairly promptly and asked me what my specific concerns were. (“In an effort to best answer your question, are there any specific things you know or are aware of in District 5 that concern you or hope to see different over the next few years?”) The District 5 specific concern I came up with: I know someone who wanted to send their kid to South High, whose kid was assigned to Roosevelt. This family pulled their kids from MPS entirely and sent them to a private school. I wanted to know what his solution would be here. Not so much because I feel like there’s a clear-cut right or wrong answer, just because I was hoping to get some sense of how he thinks about these problems.

He didn’t reply; it’s been four days. So, yeah, I don’t know. He said in his initial reply to me that he’s been getting several e-mails a day about his candidacy (suggesting that this was pretty burdensome) which makes me concerned that he has no real idea how much work serving on the school board entails. Also, “what makes you different from the other guy” is one of the most basic political campaign questions ever. It can be hard when you’re running against people whose values you generally share, but SURELY you have a reason why you continued your campaign instead of saying, “you know what, the other guy looks great. You should just vote for him.” Right? So tell me what that reason is!

My recommendation here is Nelson Inz. He’s qualified; his endorsements combined with his work history suggest that he’ll bring a balanced attitude toward charter schools, which I think is a good thing; he’s running energetically for the job.

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