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Strib’s Steve Brandt is back on the MPS beat

The slimmest of posts today as Your Humble Blogger struggles to awaken from her holiday food coma and remember where she left off sundry reporting projects in the halcyon days of 2011.

Attend, Minneapolis Public Schools leaders, staff, board members, students, taxpayers and policy geeks, for the sleepy backwater that has been education journalism hereabouts is poised to start roiling: With the New Year, veteran Star Tribune reporter Steve Brandt returned to the MPS beat.

Steve Brandt
Steve Brandt

No disrespect to Brandt’s minders and colleagues, but he’s tougher, more skeptical and less interested in going along to get along than any reporter the district and the thin ranks of the competition have seen since … well, since Brandt last had the beat, which was back when most of us MinnPosters were staff writers elsewhere.

That was also before Bernadeia Johnson was appointed superintendent, before the district launched its current reform effort, before those NCLB stakes got quite so high and, now that Lydia Lee has resigned and been replaced by Kim Ellison (which we will get to, presently), before any of the current board members were even contenders.

And it was before the hiring of the district’s current communications staff, which likely spent the holiday recess snuggled up to Brandt’s portfolio and a highlighter-riddled copy of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”

I may be misremembering a few details — something Brandt would never do, because he’d doggedly re-report them — but during the Great Seismic Media Shift of Early 2007 when many of us were leaving dead-tree-journalism for parts unknowable and Joel and Laurie Kramer were conjuring MinnPost, he moved from the Strib’s MPS beat to covering Minneapolis City Hall.

Before that, he covered the district in the chaotic era following Superintendent Carol Johnson’s departure for Memphis, when the headlines really seemed ripped from the headlines: Outsider David Jennings’ interim appointment to succeed her and the ensuing racially charged backlash; the subsequent hiring of change agent Thandiwe Peebles and the ensuing allegations she “shamed and blamed” teachers and used district staff to drive her to McDonald’s, walk her dog and do her doctoral-program homework; and the subsequent turnover of most of the by-then-reviled board.

I’m pretty sure anyone caught talking to him during that era was punished by keelhauling, and yet talk people did — proof positive people appreciate accuracy and fairness, I’d wager.

Perhaps you caught his inaugural effort yesterday, an update on the number of Minnesota school districts that do not have new contracts with their teachers now that state law no longer imposes a deadline or sanctions for blowing it. It’s got numbers, context, likely ramifications — in short, enough detail to let readers know why they should care.

If my spidey sense is right, it’s also a wee warning shot to MPS and its union, which are engaged in high-stakes contract negotiations that have been covered not by local media but by a citizen group.

Yes, I burn in shame with the rest of the jackals. And so now if you will pardon me, I’m going to bring this post to a close. It seems I have a game that needs upping.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Keith Ford on 01/04/2012 - 01:01 pm.

    I think you missed Steve’s gig covering neighborhoods.

    Other than that, I agree with you. Steve must be just about the best reporter still working for a newsprint operation. He illuminates whatever beat he covers. I missed him on neighborhoods; I’ll miss him at City Hall; can’t wait to see his stuff on schools.

  2. Submitted by James Blum on 01/04/2012 - 02:41 pm.

    I agree that Steve Brandt is a local treasure, and as an MPS parent I’m VERY glad he’s back on the MPS beat. Beth, if competition does what it’s supposed to do (raise everyone’s game), then we’re going to have some great MPS reporting by you and Steve in 2012 and (hopefully) beyond. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

  3. Submitted by Mary Turck on 01/04/2012 - 03:52 pm.

    I’m also very happy to see Steve back on the school beat — but I also want to point out that the Daily Planet HAS been covering contract negotiations and the Contract for Student Achievement Campaign at What’s at stake: Minneapolis teacher contracts and beyond.

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