Election 2014: Associate Justice – Supreme Court 3

I’m going to be honest: this is the sort of juicy, hilarious trainwreck of a race that I love blogging about. Or at least Michelle’s half of it is; David Lillehaug is thoroughly respectable and has been endorsed by loads of people on both sides. So if you’re really only reading these to get a list of who to vote for, just make sure you vote for David Lillehaug. If you’re not actually in Minnesota anyway and read these because election drama can be so entertaining, go pop yourself some popcorn because you are in for a SHOW.

MICHELLE L. MACDONALD
DAVID LILLEHAUG

(I’m going to use the “More” tag to try to cut this, because it’s long.)

Continue reading

Election 2014: Associate Justice – Supreme Court 2

The Minnesota Supreme Court has seven justices and is the highest court in the state. The two seats that are up for election this time are both justices who were originally appointed by Mark Dayton; of the other sitting justices, four were appointed by Tim Pawlenty and one, Alan Page, was elected.

Here’s who’s running for this seat:

JOHN HANCOCK
WILHELMINA (MIMI) WRIGHT

Mimi Wright is the incumbent.

John Hancock

John has no website and doesn’t appear to be granting interviews as such, though apparently he will grudgingly answer e-mail. He is (or until recently was?) a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security, and lives in Nebraska (but I guess is relocating, or …I’m not sure.) The article I linked to above has the following hilarious line: “While Wright said her wealth of experience qualifies her for the position, Hancock, who hasn’t served in a judicial position, said no single career path makes one candidate more prepared than another.” Yeah, so, Mimi Wright served as a law clerk, worked aw a lawyer, worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, and was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2002 by Jesse Ventura, where she worked for ten years before Dayton appointed her to the Supreme Court. Hancock started a private practice after law school, focusing on bankruptcy, real estate, and family law, then became an agent with DHS.

I’m going to go ahead and say she’s a lot more prepared for this job than he is.

Also, no web site, which is a pretty big “kind of a flake” flag anyway, given that he’s not running for dogcatcher but for the Minnesota State Supreme Court.

Wilhemina “Mimi” Wright

As noted above, Mimi was originally appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by Jesse Ventura, so while she was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Governor Dayton, you would expect that she’s probably someone who would be popular with the libertarian-leaning Republicans as well, and her list of supporters bears that out. It includes both some establishment Democrats (Michael Ciresi, Sharon Sayles-Belton, Michael Freeman) and some moderate or at least old-school Republicans (Arne Carlson, Al Quie).

She is also clearly qualified for the position (see above about her career path), and I see no giant red flags in her list of supporters.

This one’s easy: Mimi Wright.

Election 2014: Rambling on Judicial Races

How to choose judges is not something Americans exactly have a consensus on. In Minnesota, we have elections, but a lot of the time there’s sort of an end run around this by appointing people mid-term so that the first time they stand for election, they’re running with the advantage of incumbency. A few years ago the major parties started endorsing judges — I can’t remember where previously there was a rule against it, or if it was just not the custom. Judicial candidates tend not to trumpet their party endorsements and instead let you know subtly by mentioning various prominent people with known party affiliations as “supporters.”

There’s a group in Minnesota that’s lobbying to change the way we do judicial elections. They suggest a merit-based appointments system after which judges stand election every four years with a yes/no vote. I tend to think this would be a better way to do it, because it means that if someone’s really incompetent we can just focus on getting people to vote NO on that particular judge.

I am not personally an expert on all the different ways out there to pick judges. My father, on the other hand, actually is exactly that sort of expert. Actually, he’s expert on lots of things: he’s a Political Science professor with a specialty in the American judicial system, and he’s studied comparative judicial systems, the effect of contingent fees, mediation, and he did one project we all called the Lawyers in the Mist project where he spent about six months observing lawyers interacting with clients (with the permission of the clients.) Next year, his book Justices on the Ballot: Continuity and Change in State Supreme Court Elections is coming out from Cambridge University Press, and anyone who’s got a strong investment in the question of how we choose judges might want to take a look.

Possibly the finding from my father’s recent research that I found the most entertaining: there really is a town out there that elects its dogcatcher (well, “Animal Control Officer.”) So if you’ve ever heard heard somebody joke that Ole Savior couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, there’s actually a town he could move to where he could, in fact, add that to his collection of electoral losses.

The problem of avoiding partisanship in judicial races is one that doesn’t have a simple solution. My father gave me an extended explanation of a convoluted system that involves merit, a committee that makes recommendations, confirmation by elected officials (but with some rules in place to discourage them from turning anyone down without a good reason), and retention elections.

Alternately, you can just throw in the towel and embrace partisanship, which is more and more what Minnesota is moving to, I think.

Of course, there are all sorts of issues I want to avoid in the judiciary that are not as straightforward as liberal vs. conservative. I am very wary of judges who would assume that the police would never, ever lie (I kind of expect some degree of pro-police bias in judges, but in a situation where a dozen witnesses plus the physical evidence say one thing happened and a police officer says another thing happened, I want a judge who will be willing to at least ENTERTAIN the possibility that the cop is lying.) I am similarly wary of judges who have a bias toward the bigger, wealthier party in lawsuits, or who fail to realize the impact of being the target of a SLAPP suit has on private citizens. Finally, the sad fact is that when people run against incumbent judges, they’re frequently flakes or weirdos. I have a strong anti-flake bias regardless of office.

Anyway, at the moment most judges have dignified, non-partisan web sites that seek to communicate gravitas and hint in only the most discreet ways at whether they’re likely to swing liberal or conservative. Makes it harder. But! We are weeks away from the election so I’d better get going on this.

Just a note: I am only planning to research and write about the contested judicial races. (If there’s a serious write-in campaign happening in any of the uncontested races, please let me know.)

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.

Election 2014: Ramsey County Soil and Water Supervisor, District Four

Soil and Water Supervisor is one of those down-ballot races that doesn’t get a lot of attention. The Ramsey Conservation District is also sometimes called the water board; their job is to enact policies and encourage behavior to control runoff, both to conserve soil and to protect the bodies of water around the area (both lakes and rivers). Apparently people are a bit more aware of what they do in rural, agriculturally focused areas.

I think Hennepin County may have given up on electing these people, but Ramsey still does. There are two seats up for election this year; one is unopposed. In District 4, we have:

TOM PETERSEN
CARRIE WASLEY

Carrie is the incumbent. Neither has a web site.

Tom Petersen

I think I’ve mentioned that my main tool in doing this research is Google. That works a lot better with some candidates than others. If you google Jack Sparrow, you’ll get a million hits, but the vast majority refer to the movie character; if you add “mn,” you get a bunch of people who will impersonate Jack Sparrow for you (say, if you want a lewd and drunken pirate at your next party and can’t trust your friends to make that happen for you). You do at least get the occupirate site on the first page, though.

So let’s talk about “Tom Petersen.” Petersen is a ridiculously common name in Minnesota, up there with Johnson and Jacobsen. It is HARD to find information about him.

There is in fact a Tom Petersen who does Soil & Water stuff, though, on LinkedIn. (Hopefully that link takes you directly there.) He was a District Manager for the Ramsey Conservation district for almost 30 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

I also got a hit on a lobbyist registration for a Thomas Petersen lobbying for the Minnesota Farmers Union, though on closer inspection (i.e., when I clicked on the link to the Farmers Union lobbyists) they mention a “Thom Petersen” who’s the Director of Government Affairs. Probably not the same guy.

Finally, I found a piece about a marsh restoration that mentions a “Tom Petersen (Ramsey Soil & Water Conservation District)” as part of the project design team.

So….assuming it’s the same guy, he’s at least qualified, although I’m a little puzzled; did he get tossed out of office in 2010 and he’s trying for a comeback? I don’t know what the history is here.

Carrie Wasley

I found an awesome interview with Carrie over on the Minnesota Progressive Project site. They mention that she received the Public Service Award from Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, which definitely seems like a plus.

The interview has all these hints of frothing drama that has apparently been raging on the water board. “Over the last four years we have regained financial stability and we are now recognized as a knowledgeable and effective county asset,” she says, suggesting that five years ago they were not financially stable or recognized as a knowledgeable and effective asset. Regarding the value of teamwork, she says, “It is critically important that citizens and other conservation staff people feel that they are treated with respect, without doubletalk and effectively. This has not always been the case with the RCD but starting about four years ago the Supervisors decided to think first about the citizens and what we were trying to give them in education and effective programs instead of obfuscation and condescension. The past four years have seen a turn-around in teamwork and outreach into the community.” She mentions that her political hero is Winston Churchill and says, “The RCD has turned itself around because the Supervisors decided that the RCD provided a valuable service to the citizens of Ramsey County and we needed to get our agency in shape. We did.”

Oh, and in answer to a question about a time she stood up for people against a powerful organization, she said, “When RCD Staff came to me privately and said they could no longer serve under current management because of incompetence, RCD Supervisors and I were able to formulate a plan that would protect staff, get rid of the incompetence and provide staff with the confidence to go forward with our backing. Neither staff nor supervisors have ever looked back and our financial and community reputation attests to our taking the right action at the right time.”

Let me just note that I read the paper (yeah, an actual physical copy of the Star Tribune that gets delivered to my house) every day. I mean, I don’t always read it front to back, but I do pay attention to the news, and I actually will pay some extra attention to stuff about the Soil & Water people because I do this blogging, and it’s a race that’s always damn hard to find useful information about.

And….wow. Really? Seriously? This sounds like there was some MASSIVE DRAMA and I completely missed it. Possibly because the media completely missed it. Possibly because they don’t really know or care what the Conservation District does, either. (She notes this problem later in the interview.)

Apparently they’re changing the way these elections happen; they’re going to be done by district, rather than county-wide. I find it kind of weird that they do it this way — I don’t get to vote on the County Commissioner for Little Canada, so I’m not sure why I get to help pick a Soil & Water Supervisor for them. (Map is here, if you’re curious.) It looks like District 4 is my actual district — the western half of St. Paul.

I will admit I’m concerned about the hints of massive drama. On one hand, I ought to give you credit if you led the charge against incompetent management, restoring integrity and financial stability to whatever board you’re on. On the other hand, I feel this strong sense of suspicion to people who have that sort of drama swirling around them, when it’s them telling me what a hero they were. But, it’s Soil & Water; expecting someone ELSE to vouch for their heroism may be an unreasonable expectation, and if Tom Petersen wanted to give me the other side of the story, well, he hasn’t.

I’m provisionally endorsing Carrie Wasley.

Edited to add:

Tom Petersen did set up a website at some point, here: http://tompetersenforrcd.com/ He was a staff member for the Ramsey Conservation District. (“I was employed by the district for nearly 30 years and served with many of the very first elected supervisors. I am very proud of the Ramsey Conservation District, its Board of Supervisors, and how it has served both the citizens and natural resources of Ramsey County.”) I sort of wonder if he was involved in the massive drama Carrie’s talking about, but without more details, I’m not sure which of them to view as the hero and which as the villain here. Or if, in fact, it was drama that involved other people, and he just retired but wants to continue public service. (I have to admit that the fact that he stopped working as a paid job and is now running against an incumbent for an unpaid job makes me think it’s probably not the latter.)

The other detail I ran across is that Carrie Wasley is endorsed by the DFL.

I’m sticking with my endorsement of Carrie, although Tom Petersen’s web page suggests that he’s a committed and knowledgeable person as well and honestly I have no idea what to make of the backstory. No one’s dropped by to fill me in.

Election 2014: Minneapolis School Board

Welcome to the most mysteriously contentious race of the year! This is a surprising one, actually. You rather expect the acrimony to be found mostly in races for jobs you can imagine wanting. I mean, I don’t want to be governor, but at least being Governor of Minnesota is a job that comes with some decent perks. You’re paid enough to live on and they lend you a spiffy house. Whereas the Minneapolis school board jobs are genuinely terrible. You’re paid a part-time salary (under $15K/year) for a more-than-full-time job where being hated by lots of people is a major function and anytime you have to make some painful and complex decision like whether to close down a half-empty school, at your next big meeting you can fully expect people to show up and tell you to your face that you’re a terrible person.

This is a race that also tends to be ruled by the DFL endorsement — the action is often at the endorsing convention. This year, the wild card is Don Samuels, who had no shot at a DFL endorsement for school board (the teacher’s union does not like him at ALL) but has the profile and name recognition to make a serious run without it.

There are four people running for two seats:

REBECCA GAGNON
DON SAMUELS
IRIS ALTAMIRANO
IRA JOURDAIN

Rebecca and Iris have the DFL endorsement, and Rebecca is an incumbent.

I’ll start out here by talking some about how I’ve approached this race in recent years. First off, I almost always vote for incumbents, unless that specific incumbent has really ticked me off. I think there’s some value in institutional memory, and the incumbents far more than the new recruits have a clear idea of what they’re getting into. In addition to being poorly paid and overworked, school board members get blamed for budget shortfalls that are, for real, entirely outside their control. They don’t get to decide their budget; the state does. They get to decide what to cut, and after listening to all the other candidates at the DFL convention saying that they would NEVER increase class sizes NEVER EVER, incumbent T. Williams sardonically noted that it’s easy to make that promise, but sometimes you have to go where the money is.

I also want to note that while I am not anti-union and I am definitely not anti-the-teachers’-union, I think it’s also worth remembering that it is their job to represent the interests of the teachers. Which is fine because teachers deserve representation and advocacy. But sometimes the interests of the teachers and the interests of the students do not fully align. The board’s job is to negotiate with the teachers’ union when the contract is up for renewal, so while on one hand I have no interest in a school board that will try to screw over the teachers, on the other hand I think it’s legit here that they’re sitting on opposite sides of the table; hopefully the negotiation process will not be acrimonious but it is a negotiation and not just “here, teachers’ union, everything you want is obviously what should happen.” Being disliked by the teacher’s union does not necessarily mean you’ll be a terrible school board member. It really depends on what it is they have against you.

Rebecca Gagnon

I was not super impressed by Rebecca when she ran the first time, but she definitely gets credit for running again. And although a ton of problems remain (like the achievement gap and the dropout rate), MPS has gotten markedly better over the last four years. They’ve stopped closing schools and started re-opening them. In a weird way, I think MPS benefited from the economic meltdown, financial crisis, and slow recovery. Minnesota does school funding through the state budget, and your district gets more money the more students you have. The recession and financial crisis were a complete disaster for private education; sending your children to a private school is totally optional, and will probably drop to a low priority if you’ve just lost your job or are afraid you’re about to. Anyway, a lot of Minneapolis-based students came back to the Minneapolis public schools.

But, they’d have left again just as quickly if their parents had felt their kids were getting a substandard education. In fact, there are a lot of good schools in Minneapolis. There are a lot of extremely experienced, committed teachers. There are at least a few really talented principals.

(Can I just note that people focus really strongly on quality teachers and tend to overlook the importance of principals? Good principals can make a huge, huge difference to a school. I’m not even sure how. I mean, half the time I’m not sure what they do. It’s clearly a really complex skill set, because for one thing, you have to manage teachers. Managing teachers is DAMN HARD, because a lot of teachers are very fond of working with children and not wild about dealing with other adults and in particular they want to run their own classroom and have the principal leave them the hell alone. Anyway, a good principal can turn a school around. A bad principal can ALSO turn a school around. I’m not even sure how they evaluate principals, especially given that the old principal at Molly and Kiera’s former school was once “Principal of the Year”…)

Her website says she’s in favor of balanced budgets, she voted for the new discipline policy designed to reduce suspensions (that’s a point in her favor, IMO), she supported the Safe Schools initiative (that’s an anti-bullying policy that particularly strives to protect LGBTQ students), and she helped to pass an Equity and Diversity Policy “that requires all board decisions pass the equity and diversity impact assessment to ensure we are identifying, addressing and eradicating institutionalized racism throughout all levels of MPS.” This is all good stuff, although for Minneapolis school board candidates, not exactly controversial.

I’ll add here that she refused to participate in a forum because it was co-sponsored by Students for Education Reform, a probably-astroturf group that has been campaigning for Don Samuels. She also refused to fill out the questionnaire from Educators for Excellence, which I think is rather unfortunate given that what they did with the responses was put them together in a convenient booklet. (I guess you might be concerned about lending them credibility, but frankly, I find agenda-driven questionnaires to be useful in ways not necessarily intended by the people with the agendas.)

Apparently SFER and E4E and various other lobbying groups have been spending absurd amounts of money in this school board race. (Specifically, pushing Don Samuels.) There was a blowup a few weeks back because Iris Altamirano (endorsed DFL candidate) appeared at an event with Don Samuels. I’d say there’s an overall perception that Dan is running against Rebecca; everyone seems to like Iris, and few people are taking Ira all that seriously. So, I can understand her suspicion of the groups that are Don boosters, although I kind of think she may be shooting herself in the foot by treating them like they contaminate all that they touch.

Don Samuels

Don ran for mayor last year, and I remember thinking that given how focused he was on education issues (which the mayor of Minneapolis has very little to do with) he ought to be running for school board. And now he is. And…I have some big hesitations about him.

He’s a board member at Teach for America. You know, I really appreciate the energy, drive, and idealism of people who teach with TFA but in point of fact, very few teachers are all that good their very first year. I do support alternative certification programs; I think there’s something really nutty about the fact that if you have a PhD in Physics, you can’t teach science to high school students unless you go and get a Master’s degree in Education. (I’m not saying you should be able to waltz in off the street with your PhD and teach high school students, I’m just saying that demanding a whole separate graduate program is not enforcing professionalism, it’s enforcing hoop-jumping.) But the thing about TFA is that it’s all about teaching for two years and then doing something else, so basically a bunch of kids in the neediest schools are getting one teacher’s Probable Worst Year Ever after another. This is not helpful.

I mean, with a newly minted teacher, someone has to be the first year, just as someone’s going to have to be the first patient intubated or stitched up by that new resident in the ER. If the person’s goal is to become a teacher as a career, then you know, some class full of kids will have to suck it up. But I have some huge reservations about providing an endless stream of two-year teachers to the students who most need really GOOD teachers.

If I were going to set up a program like TFA, I would exploit the enthusiastic recent graduates by employing them as EAs and one-on-one reading and math tutors and after-school enrichment providers. I might even add a coursework component and make this an alternative certification option.

Here’s the other thing about Don: I am super hesitant about these groups backing him. On the other hand, he’s also endorsed by RT Rybak and a whole lot of City Council members (past and present) as well as two former school board members.

So, looking at his actual website, there’s stuff I like and stuff I don’t like. “We often hear that poverty is a barrier in education that cannot be overcome. We know that is just not true. Two of Minneapolis’ best schools are Harvest Prep Academy and Hiawatha Academy, and those schools serve 99%+ kids of color, 95%+ free or reduced lunch kids, and yet their outcomes beat the state average by double digits every year.” Harvest Prep and Hiawatha Academy are both charter schools. And he’s right; they do a stunning job. Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul does, too, with a similar population. It’s absolutely worth asking what these schools are doing and how they’re doing it and what strategies can MPS try.

On the other hand, he wants a longer school day and year. At my kids’ old school in Minneapolis, they got twenty minutes total for lunch and recess, K through 8. Six and a half hours with a ten minute recess is bad enough. If the school day is getting extended, they also need to make recess (real recess) mandatory.

He talks about useful and timely data. He doesn’t acknowledge that he’s talking about still more testing. He talks about teacher quality: “Teachers cannot be viewed as interchangeable parts. We need to identify great teachers, no matter what their background and training, and empower them to succeed. Once we’ve done that, we should be aiming to get the best teachers in front of the neediest kids.” Here’s the thing about that. I can tell you about great teachers I had, and great teachers my kids have had. I can even tell you precisely what made some of them so great. But I cannot tell you how to measure it. I can’t tell you how to incentivize it. Neither can anyone else. The problem with identifying great teachers is that way too often it involves identifying teachers who are particularly good at teaching to the test, or teachers who are particularly good at being well-liked by their peers. You can use metrics with some professions but teaching is a really, really, really hard one to measure.

He also talks about Early Childhood Learning (which is great, we agree on that completely) and on the role and importance of parents (ditto).

Iris Altamirano

Iris has a compelling political biography: she was the daughter of a school custodian who went to Cornell University, shocking the socks off the local school superintendent who pulled her mother aside and said, “why YOUR DAUGHTER?” (to which she responded, “why NOT my daughter?!?”) (Don Samuels also has a compelling political biography: he’s an immigrant from Jamaica who came over, was really successful in business, and turned to community service. He still lives in one of the more challenging neighborhoods in Minneapolis.)

Her issues page emphasizes kindergarten readiness (by funding High 5), thinking about the needs of students who are new immigrants, good teachers and principals, and community building.

You know, this really is the problem with figuring out who to vote for in school board races in Minneapolis.

To be honest, I would love to see a candidate say that they want to say to hell with kindergarten readiness, let’s think about what kindergarten was originally supposed to be for and focus on first grade readiness. Originally, kindergarten was supposed to be universal preschool, where kids could learn their colors and work on their fine motor skills to get better with crayons and scissors and learn school behaviors like sitting down and paying attention. Over time we’ve transformed kindergarten into what we used to refer to as “first grade” and defeated the whole entire purpose of that preparatory year so now once again we’re dealing with a readiness gap between those kids who arrive knowing the letters of the alphabet and those kids who arrive never having experienced any sort of formal school environment in their lives.

I know, this is crazy talk. You would never ever ever in a million years hear a DFLer say that in Minneapolis, but I really think it’s worth considering as a strategy. They did, at some point after Molly’s (truly disastrous) Kindergarten year at her Minneapolis school, assign an aide to every kindergarten classroom, which is a really good idea. When Kiera was in preschool, I remember that in the younger rooms, the lead teacher would assertively lead everyone over to the rug for storytime while two assistant teachers would round up and redirect the kids who were having trouble changing over to this new activity. If a kid got restless during storytime, it could still continue while the assistant teachers soothed, quieted, distracted, or (if all else failed) removed the disruptive kid. It really helped with the process of socializing kids to the norms of a classroom.

Anyway, Iris has a truly impressive list of endorsements that includes Keith Ellison, most of the City Council members, a bunch of state legislators including the House Education Chair, a long list of current and former school board members, the DFL and all the unions (except for the Teacher’s Union, which opted not to endorse directly and instead instructed its members to vote for whoever the DFL endorsed).

Ira Jourdain

Ira was an extremely distant fourth in the primary. (Rebecca came in first with 31%, then Don with 27%, then Iris with 23%, then Ira with 6%.) This is largely being treated as a three-person race for two seats. Turnout for the primary was super low, though, making it hard to really suss out what’s likely to happen on Election Day.

Ira’s from the Red Lake band of Ojibwe (I think) and works at one of the human services organizations that serves Native Americans. His “platform letter” says that he thinks MPS is putting its resources in the wrong places. “For our youngest students kindergarten classes are too full. For our oldest students our high schools do not completely offer culturally relevant curriculum that engages them and welcomes them into their learning environment.”

I totally agree with him on class sizes. Minneapolis has appalling class sizes. The standard class size is 27 students K-3, 32 students 4-5, and I’m not even sure what happens in the upper grades. It’s ridiculous. The charter schools, all of which get less money per student, all manage to have much smaller class sizes. For a while Minneapolis blamed the fact that they had a bunch of half-empty schools that they were paying to heat; then they closed a bunch of schools so I’m not sure what their excuse is now.

I have some real hesitation about “culturally relevant” curricula. I went to an elementary school that was wildly enthusiastic about being RELEVANT and somewhat less worried about supplying factual content. Also, what kids need varies a lot. (He talks about that, too, saying that we shouldn’t use a one-size-fits-all standard of teaching.) There are kids who will learn science better if they’re exploring culturally relevant topics like ethanol and the water quality of the nearest lake; other kids want a more methodical and structured curriculum rather than a topic-driven one.

He also talks about wraparound services; this is the approach that says, “a kid is not going to do well in school if he’s not getting health care, if he doesn’t have enough to eat, if his family is homeless,” and tries to make sure that services to provide nutrition, stability, and health care are being provided. I totally agree in principle while also kind of resenting the fact that we’re dumping yet more stuff on schools. (It really should not be the school’s job to make sure kids have access to health care; it should just be a societal given.)

I think I’m going to come down on the side of Iris and Rebecca but I may change my mind before the election.

Election 2014: Minneapolis City Questions 1 and 2

Minneapolis has two charter questions on the ballot. The fact that these rules are currently written in the charter means that in order to change them, they have to pass citywide referendum. Here are the two questions:

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)
FILING FEE FOR CITY ELECTED OFFICES
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to increase the filing fees for candidates seeking City elected offices from the current fee of $20 for each office to $500 for the office of Mayor, $250 for the office of Council Member, $100 for the office of Board of Estimate and Taxation Member, and $100 for the office of Park & Recreation Commissioner and, as an alternative to payment of a filing fee, allow a candidate to submit a petition of voter signatures as provided in state law?

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)
REMOVE MANDATORY FOOD REQUIREMENTS FOR WINE LICENSES
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the requirement that businesses holding on-sale wine licenses in the City must serve food with every order of wine or beer and to remove mandatory food to wine and beer sales ratios?

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)
FILING FEE FOR CITY ELECTED OFFICES

I will admit that on a very personal level, I am torn about this. Blogging about all thirty-five mayoral candidates in Minneapolis last time was kind of fun. If you raise the fee above the current $20, you’re going to lose the candidates like the “WAKE THE **** UP, MINNEAPOLIS!!!!” guy, the Laurist Communist, and Chris Zimmerman, who conscientiously blogged about every other candidate with the question, “would they actually be better at this job than I would be?”

I have occasionally thought about how if I were the Hat Guy from xkcd, I would approach all ballots with the question, “what would be most entertaining to me, personally?” But I’m not, and I don’t, and I think people should vote “yes” on this question.

I was curious how many signatures it took to get around this. To avoid paying the fee, you need either 500 signatures OR 5% of the number of ballots cast for that office in the previous election, whichever number is smaller.

The only thing here that seems unreasonable is the $100 to file for BET, given that it only pays $20/month. At the same time, though, the last thing you want is to make the BET the job that all the nuts run for.

But in general this seems like a really reasonable move. The $500/500 signatures requirement is not going to seriously impede anyone who’s got an actual campaign going; it will, however, deter the hobbyists. And while I find the hobbyists to be great fuel for snark and hilarity, I do not think it’s good for Minneapolis voters to have to wade through the weirdos when voting.

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)
REMOVE MANDATORY FOOD REQUIREMENTS FOR WINE LICENSES

It used to be pretty common to require restaurants to sell a certain amount of food to demonstrate they’re not a bar. However, as craft beer has become more popular, even in restaurants that truly are restaurants, it can be really easy to screw this up and get in trouble.

In general I think Minneapolis over-regulates alcohol. This is one of my grew-up-in-Wisconsin biases. Ed and I got married in Madison; we had a picnic the night before the wedding for all our out-of-town guests, held at a picnic shelter at Hoyt Park, and provided a keg of beer. Ed wanted me to call the Madison parks department to make absolutely sure this was legal, because in Minneapolis, it totally would not be. Here’s more or less how the call went.

Me: Hi. I have the shelter at Hoyt Park reserved on [date] and I was planning to get a keg of beer.
Madison Parks Lady: {puzzled silence}
Me: …aaaand I just wanted to make sure that would be okay.
Madison Parks Lady: You’re just going to drink the beer, right? Not do anything…weird?
Me: Yeah, we’re just going to drink it.
Madison Parks Lady: We don’t allow glass containers at any of the beaches, though, if you were holding your party at a beach you’d need to drink it out of plastic cups.

Anyway. Yeah, I think restaurants should be allowed to serve expensive beer and not worry that this will bite them in the ass when people spend too much on booze. If a specific restaurant is creating actual problems then that should be dealt with — but the solution is to deal with the businesses that create actual problems, not to assume that restricting alcohol for everyone will solve things.

So my recommendation is to vote YES on both of these.