Election 2016: Constitutional Amendment 1

There is a constitutional amendment on the Minnesota ballot this year! Statewide. (Obviously.) Here’s what it says:

Remove Lawmakers’ Power to Set Their Own Pay
Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove state lawmakers’ power to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries of lawmakers?

You can vote Yes, or No. If you leave it blank, that counts as a No.

So my first gut reaction to this is as follows: I suspect that the legislators have put this on the ballot because they would really like a raise, and they would really like it not to be on them to give themselves a raise, because if you do vote yourself a raise people will slam you for it and sometimes people will indignantly run against you because you gave yourself a raise after not accomplishing whatever it was they particularly wanted you to get done that session.

How much are legislators paid at the moment? I found that info over on the Minnesota State Legislature FAQ:  a Legislator’s salary is $31,140 per year. That said, it’s allegedly not a full-time job; you’re not in session all year. If legislators have another job, the FAQ notes they’re protected from firing over their legislative-session-absence and also their employer isn’t allowed to fire them if they dislike how they voted, which is hilarious but also a good idea, I’d say.

They get a per diem during the legislative session (key, for people who live somewhere up on the Iron Range — it’s not like they can go home at night to sleep) and I was trying to find that info out from this helpful document about compensation and that wasn’t in there, but it did mention that the last time the legislature got a raise was in 1999. It also noted, “The 2013 Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment regarding how legislators’ salaries are determined. The 2014 Legislature modified the text of the proposed amendment and passed a bill that put that amendment to voters. The amendment will be voted on at the 2016 general election.” So this has been in the works for a while.

There’s a MinnPost article from 2013 about the question of whether legislators are underpaid.  It covers the per diem issue but also quotes former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe on the whole “part time” issue. “It’s difficult for the public to understand that it’s really not part-time,” Moe says. “It’s a 150-percent of the time job for five or six months of the year, and about a 75-percent of the time job the rest of the year. It’s more than a full-time job and you kind of build your life around it.”

(They’re not as underpaid as the Minneapolis and probably also the St. Paul school board. I can tell you that Minneapolis school board members work a more-than-full-time job for under $15,000/year and a measurable percentage of the job is to be the target of hatred, resentment, and angry criticism. I would raise both Minneapolis and St. Paul school board members’ salaries tomorrow to a reasonable full-time salary, if I could, because I sincerely believe that they’d get better people who would be more likely to be able to solve the district’s problems if people who need to work for a living could afford to serve. That salary: also set by the legislature.)

The MinnPost article notes that the legislature has the same problem, to some degree: the skimpy pay doesn’t stop people from running, but it causes a lot of people to decide they can’t afford to run again.

The comments section on that article kind of illustrates the problem: “Slackers and lemmings not ‘entitled’ to increases.” “That does not justify higher pay because constituents did not benefit from your choice to work long hours.” Several people pointed out that we might get better, smarter people running for office if we paid them a living wage; a not-outstandingly-smart-sounding retired woman who can’t spell said she’d serve for free.

A more recent article in MinnPost talks about this issue again, noting that even mentioning legislative pay is just full-on radioactive for legislators, and that a lot of legislators wind up really struggling financially.

Apparently in New Mexico, state legislators don’t get paid at all. This piece compares legislative pay and talks about the benefits (and drawbacks) of a well-paid legislature.

Here’s the fundamental thing, I guess. I do think people should get paid fairly for their work, and that includes lawmakers. The solution to crappy legislators is kicking them out of office at election time, not saying “none of you get paid today!” I think a citizen commission will pay people fairly. (I don’t think it will pay them lavishly. I think it will compensate them reasonably for the actual hours they work, or at least, they’ll do a better job of this than the legislators can politically do for themselves.) This seems like a good idea to me and I am going to vote in favor of this amendment.

 

 

Election 2016: St. Paul School Board

St. Paul is holding a Special Election for school board member at-large. This is to replace member Jean O’Connell, who resigned in protest after Superintendent Valeria Silva was fired. (The board appointed an interim person back in August, but Cedrick Baker is not running.)

On the ballot:

Eduardo Barrera
Tony Klehr
Cindy Kerr
Greg Copeland
Jeanelle Foster

Eduardo Barrera

Eduardo Barrera is an executive director at CLUES, a nonprofit that provides services and referrals to the Latino community. An article about the start times of St. Paul’s high schools mentioned him: “Eduardo Barrera, a parent of two elementary students who also sits on the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation board, said he had read up on the science before joining the steering committee. But, he said, like fellow committee members, he tries to keep an open mind.” (They didn’t end up moving start times later but it’s still under consideration.)

(Here’s the thing about later high school start times: they will improve learning outcomes, improve your graduation rate, lower teen pregnancy rates, and cut the death rate because of fewer people hit by sleepy teenage drivers. It is the winniest win/win of all win/wins, except for sports coaches, who like those early afternoon hours for practices.)

His website is pretty minimalist and includes the following platform: “Eliminate the persistent disparity in educational attainment; include voices of parents, teachers, and staff who support our children; ensure collaboration for the benefit of the district; increase enrollment levels and decrease classroom size; make every resident of Saint Paul proud of our public schools.”

That is the most boilerplate generic school board platform I think I’ve ever seen, and I’ve sat through quite a few DFL endorsing conventions so I’ve heard a lot of generic boilerplate delivered out loud, fists raised, with cheering volunteers holding signs as backdrop.

That is really telling me less than nothing about what you will do with your seat.

He also tried for the interim position but not hard enough to show up on the day the school board made the selection (he had a meeting) and he didn’t try for DFL endorsement. He also didn’t turn in a website when he filled out his paperwork so there’s no link on the Secretary of State candidates list; I did find him when I googled, but it’s pretty far down the page. I’m a little dubious that he actually wants the job. Oh, there’s also no way to contact him from his campaign website. Hmm. Yeah. I’m increasingly skeptical. Next!

Tony Klehr

Okay, here’s what I was able to find out about Tony Klehr. He’s a teacher in the Stillwater Public Schools (a “Credit Recovery Teacher, Generalist,” which I’m guessing means he  works with students who’ve failed classes to make up the credits.) In the comments of a pissy Joe Soucheray column about the St. Paul school board, someone named Fred endorsed Tony and said he was a Republican. According to Tony’s mostly-private Facebook page, he graduated from Woodbury Senior High in 2004, and the U of M Duluth in 2010; also, it looks like he went to China in 2006, and it looks like it was with a student group. He has a selfie on the Great Wall that is captioned, “taken moments before i threw up all over the great wall. they may have a booming economy, but we have struck at the heart of their national diginity.”

Next!

Cindy Kerr

So, this is new: a GoFundMe page as a campaign website.

Cindy has two kids, both adopted from foster care. She pulled her son out of SPPS last year after what sounds like a very frustrating experience with the IEP process. When adopting from foster care, she had to take a bunch of training on fetal alcohol syndrome and other special needs; she clearly sees the lack of similar training in the Saint Paul Public Schools.

Other info I found: via LinkedIn, she’s a an “Engagement Manager” for a company called ClickSoft, and her employer and her job description are so absolutely saturated with buzzwords I have no earthly idea what she does. She’s on Twitter, but appears to use it mostly for her job. I also found her filing form. She also lives ridiculously close to me, like I could go knock on her door right now and ask her some questions. (She doesn’t have her campaign e-mail address on her GoFundMe but anyone who reads this and wants to follow up with her can try votecindykerr@gmail.com.)

My thoughts here: it sounds like she has some personal experience in a very specific area that would be useful, but it’s a really narrow experience, specific to her children. That’s where most of us start, actually, but for school board I like to see people who’ve got some broader experience, either via working or volunteering. It’s also clear that political campaigns are an opaque black box to her — a GoFundMe page is better than no website at all but she’s gotten exactly one donor since putting it up.

Cindy, if you’re reading this, I would encourage you to join the St. Paul Special Education Advisory Council. Volunteer for the campaign of a politician you like (maybe not this season, when you’re campaigning yourself, but next year or the year after). Attend your DFL precinct caucus and become a delegate to the City Convention. You’ll have the opportunity to see how campaigns work and if this is something you’d like to pursue, you’ll have a better base of knowledge (and connections) to go forward.

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland is a loud Republican, a perennial candidate, and the former extremely incompetent Maplewood city manager. He ran for school board two years ago, partly on the platform of firing Silva, and has not updated his website since Silva was fired. He’d like to see ward-based school board representation, like Minneapolis has — I tend to think this is a good idea, FWIW.

On his Biography page, he talks about how  every student should have an IEP created in consultation with parents, teachers, and guidance counselors. IEPs right now are created for special needs students and spell out goals and services. I’ve been through this process: it’s time-consuming. Doing this for every student would require a whole new layer of school bureaucracy. Of course, elsewhere he says that more money should go to teaching, and not to bureaucracy. To be fair, he doesn’t seem to consider guidance counselors to be the bureaucracy; he notes that the American School Counselor Association suggests that schools employ one guidance counselor for every 250 students, and the St. Paul schools have 435:1. (It’s not that I’m opposed to guidance counselors in the schools but asking the American School Counselor Association how many guidance counselors a school needs seems a little like asking a cosmetology school whether it’s really necessary to license hairdressers. This guy is solidly Republican so why guidance counselors, specifically, are the one form of non-teacher bureaucracy he thinks are awesome is something I’m kind of curious about.)

Anyway, it sounds ot me like his vision of the every-student-gets-an-IEP is that the process is less intensive than the current IEP process used for special needs students, but more intensive than parent-teacher conferences. He wants teachers, parents, and guidance counselors to set academic goals and address gaps with tutoring and other interventions. You know what, fundamentally I think this is a pretty good idea but it would cost a lot of money, and eliminating “failed, costly Silva era programs such as those operated by the Pacific Education Group” is going to round up relative pocket change. (He also suggests the technology levy funds be redirected. I am skeptical that this would work. On one hand, they’re spending money on iPads maintenance and so on but on the other hand, there are other things they were able to not spend money on like printed copies of a whole bunch of textbooks. I’m not saying that the iPads weren’t a stupid use of money — I’m saying, at this point, dumping them won’t save you much.) He then goes on to say in bold face font that no new funds or property tax levies will be required, because of course he does, he’s a Republican. This is bullshit.

I mean, okay. He says there are currently 85 counselors, and this is 1:435 and he wants 1:250 so let’s say we’re going to hire 75. That might be do-able with the money we’d otherwise be spending on stuff like PEC, maybe, but here’s the thing: the 1:250 is assuming the normal set of Guidance Counselor tasks. If you’re going to say that every student in St. Paul now gets an IEP, you’re going to need a lot more. If you’re going to say that students who’ve fallen behind will get tutoring or other interventions, you’re also going to need to hire an army of reading and math specialists who will do that tutoring. (They actually have a bunch of these people now, but that’s part of where some of that money that’s not going to classroom teachers and guidance counselors is going to.)

He says he wants to spend the maximum amount possible in the classroom, and says that he’d start budget cuts with the central administration, followed by an examination of School Support Services budget and the District-Wide Support Services budget.

So okay, the School Support Services budget is where you pay for those reading and math specialists who do the tutoring that kids needs to bring them up to speed. I imagine this is also where they pay for behavior specialists who deal with the kids who unruly and seriously disruptive, so that the teachers can teach rather than spending long periods of time dealing with kids who are being disruptive. The district-wide support services is where you get the people who go from school to school providing OT or PT or other services that a small number of students need. Do you want every child to be able to write and thus take the MCAs? Some students need OT and PT in order to be able to hold a pencil and make words on a page.

I mean, I could be making the wrong assumptions about how the money is allocated and who pays for what.

When I look back at our (frustrating) experiences in Minneapolis, there were absolutely staff members that I don’t know what the hell they did all day. In some cases they were definitely doing stuff, it just didn’t seem to bear any real relationship to what their job title suggested they might be doing. And I seriously don’t know what some of the central people were doing: not calling my kid’s teacher back ever, would be what one of them did all day, as far as I could tell. But there are also the people who test all the 3 and 4-year-olds for Kindergarten Readiness; there are the people who manage the central food services and the central transportation services. There are people who run community education, who investigate civil rights complaints, who help families who are experiencing homelessness, who make sure everyone’s checks get auto-deposited on schedule. Sure, some of the people in these offices are undoubtedy useless, lazy assholes like the person who never called my kid’s teacher back ever. Others are doing super useful work. I do not remotely trust Greg Copeland to be able to tell the difference.

On his main page he has a blog where he suggests that we should institute middle-school testing to sort all our kids into college-bound and vocational tracks, complains about “transgenders” using the bathroom, and advocates for vouchers.

Anyway, this guy is not my candidate.

Jeanelle Foster

Jeanelle (“Jeanie”) Foster was endorsed by the DFL at a tiny City Convention held a few months ago. (I got a phone call about it, I think even from Jeanie’s campaign, but was out of town that day.) According to her biography, she is a former teen mother who pulled herself out of poverty using the power of education and went on to become a teacher, then work at the Wilder Child Development Center to help struggling families get their kids through the system. Now she works as a Head Start administrator.

Her platform is another absolutely boilerplate set of goals: “Bring staff together and improve relationships with administration; Keep children and equity at the center of our decision-making and help the system to be more responsive; Increase parent and family engagement so kids and families can better navigate the system to find success.” Her background at least suggests she has experience with these specific things. (Increasing parent and family engagement was a component of her job at Wilder, I think.)

She’s my pick, and I’ll admit it’s heavily for her past experience. I have friends who went to college as single mothers, and they’re all frankly pretty amazing. The fact that she got a Master’s degree (!!!) after having a child at 16 shows that she’s someone who can work really hard and who knows to an intimate degree the transformational power of education.

If (like Greg) you’re suspicious enough of the central offices that you’d be hesitant enough to vote for anyone who’s worked there, I guess in that case I’d go for Eduardo Barrera. He’s been heavily engaged with the public schools in the past as a parent and citizen. I’m going to say that Tony Klehr is a flake, and Cindy Kerr is well-meaning but too inexperienced to jump into this particular job. Greg Copeland is the GOP equivalent of the socialists who want to fund things with gold pooped out by magical unicorns. (The GOP version of this is when you’re convinced that you can just check the trash cans for all the gold people are mindlessly throwing away because cut waste is the answer to everything, and the possibility that St. Paul spends a lot of money because it gets a lot of kids whose needs are more extreme than, say, Wayzata does, has not occurred to him.)

 

 

 

Election 2016: Judicial Races – State Supreme Court

It’s been weirdly hard to focus on these writeups this year because thinking about politics is far more stressful than it normally is. I’m going to try to focus and get a few more done today.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’ll get a long list of judges running for re-election but on neither the ballot for my current address nor the ballot for my former address does anyone running for District Court or Court of Appeals have any opponents. (I don’t know how I missed the fact that several Minneapolis judicial races are contested. I’ll get to those shortly.)

I nearly always vote for incumbents in judicial races because 99.99% of the time, the person running against the incumbent is a kook, at best. (In most cases they’re from the Michele Bachmann school of wingnuttery or something similarly appalling.) On those occasions that you have a genuinely awful incumbent, I expect that people advocating for the challenger will have made a pretty concerted effort to make sure I know why I should be voting differently this time around.

Frankly, I think candidate vs. candidate judicial races are a bad idea. I would prefer to see Y/N voting, with a judge removed if there’s a majority saying they shouldn’t be a judge anymore, with new judges selected by a committee and appointed by the governor or something along those lines. (My father is a political scientist and how judges are selected is one of his areas of specialty.)

Anyway, the only judicial race that’s contested this time is for the Supreme Court. You can choose between Natalie Hudson, an experienced, respected justice supported by basically all the people in the state who know or care about the court system, and Michelle MacDonald, a certified whackjob who has no business anywhere near the legal profession.

I did a detailed writeup about Michelle two years ago and I’ll just link to that rather than trying to recap. The only major update is that the Grazzini-Rucki kids turned up in the last year; it was their mother who hid them; the mother has now been tried and found guilty for felony deprivation of parental rights and is serving a short prison sentence.

Michelle MacDonald’s behavior and demeanor are erratic; she has repeatedly gotten herself into serious trouble due to a complete lack of respect for legal procedure; she has marginal emotional control over herself in situations where professionals are expected to be able to keep a grip on themselves. She has poor grammar and punctuation. She waves Bibles around in speeches.

Even if you find things in Michelle’s rants that sound appealing, she should under no circumstances be trusted with a judgeship. Vote for Natalie Hudson in this race.