MinnPost's education reporting is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

Peggy Ingison, now leaving for Historical Society, has made a big difference at MPS

Schoolchildren of Minneapolis, you almost had her. Your infectious back-to-school exuberance almost convinced Peggy Ingison to stay on as Minneapolis Public Schools’ chief financial officer, the woman who has kept the lights on despite a fiscal landscape that would depress Charles Dickens.

Like other senior MPS staff, Ingison spends the first few days the year not at district HQ but out in the schools, remembering what all the fuss is about.

Peggy Ingison
Peggy Ingison

New teachers, new notebooks, friends you missed over the summer — why, it’s almost enough to trick a person into forgetting that she spends the other 51 weeks of the year holed up in the dank administration building with an abacus, coping with funding shifts and unallotments and revenue formulas.

Almost. After four and a half years of loaves and fishes, Ingison has accepted a job as CFO of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Was Pawlenty’s finance commissioner
Before former superintendent Bill Green lured her to MPS in January 2007, Ingison was Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s finance commissioner. When she worked for the state Senate Finance Committee years before that, one of the agencies she worked with was the Historical Society. A history professor at Augsburg, Green sits on the society’s board of directors.

When Ingison handed her resignation to Green’s successor, Bernadeia Johnson, the superintendent pleaded. “You can’t go,” Ingison reported she said. “School’s just starting.”

Watching kids tumble off buses, she had second thoughts. “It’s a little tug at me,” she said. “It’s like, this is why we do this.

“But it’s hard work,” she continued. “I’m a little worn out. I love this place and I know there is no more important work to do, but I struggle some days to know whether it’s making a difference.”

No one else wonders. When Ingison arrived at MPS, the district did not have financial statements. Checks were sometimes cut months late. She would never say this, but often the response to news that funding was drying up was met with grousing about funding drying up and not by any serious discussion about the painful structural changes that would have to be made to keep schools open in a different fiscal climate.

It’s Ingison who explained year after year, loudly and in plain English, exactly how a state funding shift eventually turns into a cut. It was Ingison who schooled board members in the mysteries of the unallotment process.

It’s Ingison who co-chaired Gov. Mark Dayton’s education finance working group, which spent the spring coming up with a plan [PDF] to revamp the state’s badly broken school funding system. (A plan the Legislature blew off.)  

And it’s Ingison who returns journalists’ calls from her car, late at night, knowing that the details are hard for the math-impaired to grasp, much less rearticulate to a citizenry that needs education so it will trouble itself with things like funding referenda.

Less of a hot seat
She has no illusions about her new job — anyone involved in public-sector finance is facing a long, tough slog. But, she allowed, her Historical Society post should be less of a hot seat.

“Nobody picks on them the way people pick on the school district,” she sighed. “People’s futures really do depend on doing the tough work that we have to do.”

She’s been warned by others who were worn out advocating for MPS; David Jennings — a former state commerce commissioner who was superintendent from 2002-2004 and who went from MPS, briefly, to the historical society — warned her that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the district.

Indeed, Ingison sounds heartbroken.

How about this: Give her a few weeks to forget the abacus and send a few classes of carefully chosen kids on a field trip to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Perhaps some of the same bright-eyed kids who almost convinced her to snatch back her resignation will accidentally make a wrong turn into her office.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Schapiro on 09/01/2011 - 12:10 pm.

    I understand that the Ingison hire was one of Supt. Green’s proudest achievements, but specifically what difference has she made? Anything that applies to decision making or that affects kids?

    • Submitted by Katie Ingison on 03/06/2017 - 08:26 am.

      I’m sorry, I appreciate your concern but I also notice that you have no idea how the system actually works. Please conduct some research. She helped keep over 30 schools open; when they were planned to previously shut down under the previous administration.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/01/2011 - 12:42 pm.

    Dennis beat me to it.

    Ingison may well have been a competent book keeper, but I haven’t detected any positive movement in the district’s budget management or it’s academic mission.

    For instance, where was Ingison when the Superintendent recently bestowed a quarter million dollars worth of retroactive salary increases for district administrators?

  3. Submitted by Keith Ford on 09/01/2011 - 01:43 pm.

    I’ve seen Ms. Ingison in action over the years, sometimes up close at the state capital, sometimes just as an observer here in Minneapolis. She is one terrific public servant — hard working, talented, knowledgeable, dedicated and always pleasant. Much as I love the Historical Society, her departure is a real loss for all citizens of Minneapolis, both the kids and the taxpayers.

  4. Submitted by Eric Larson on 09/01/2011 - 02:39 pm.

    Lets just cross our fingers and hope that the Minneapolis Public School Disease doesn’t follow her to MHS. For those who don’t know the MPS disease usually has these symptoms.
    1. Exibits and displays about minority groups way out of proportion to their % of their population in Minnesota.
    2. Funding for programs such as education, internships, mentoring that benefits above mentioned. Far in excess of majority population, if any funding of such occurs.
    3. That all exibits, task forces and operations move towards politically correct goals.
    4. That the longer your family or your people have been here in Minnesota, the less your story matters today and even less tomorrow.
    5.

  5. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/01/2011 - 04:23 pm.

    And the money for the buses for this recognition field trip for
    ingison would come out of thin air or possibly from the huge cash reserves?

  6. Submitted by Dwight Pederson on 09/01/2011 - 07:10 pm.

    It is not often that I can name a public official that I can only view in the positive and not a single negative thought. I am proud to say that Peggy is one of those individuals.As an Executive Budget Officer with the Minnesota Department of Finance , I worked with Peggy when she was on the Minnesota Senate staff starting some thirty years ago. Later, she was our boss in her position of State Budget Director. I retired shortly before she became Commissioner of Finance but continued to hear of the high respect she continued to recieve from Department of Finance employees, the Governor’s Office and legislators from both parties.

    I wish Peggy the very best in her position with the Historical Society. Hopefully, this will be a less stressfull challenge than the previous many years.

  7. Submitted by John Hakes on 09/02/2011 - 09:52 am.

    Good stuff: Learning Curve is reason enough for the existence of Minnpost, even though it is much more.

Leave a Reply