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Tectonic shift occurring in dynamics of MPS board elections

Will community groups sponsoring next week’s candidate forum coalesce into a new vetting bloc?

On Monday, Aug. 6, at the intersection of Franklin and Nicollet avenues in Minneapolis, precisely at 7:30 p.m., a tectonic plate in the city’s political structure is going to shift. That it will create ripples is a certainty. Whether they gather force and sweep, wave-like, over the landscape remains to be seen.

MPS logoMinneapolis School Board hopefuls will gather at Plymouth Congregational Church to discuss their positions and field questions. Candidates are running virtually unopposed in three of the four races; fireworks are not expected.

(MinnPost is listed as a media sponsor of the event, but Your Humble Blogger has no idea why or how that went down. Perhaps her loud opinions about the kinds of snacks she finds appropriate have compelled the events committee to meet when she’s not around.)

No, the news here is that the forum is being organized by six civic groups: The League of Women Voters of Minneapolis, the Committee on the Achievement Gap, the African American Leadership Forum, the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative, Empowering Educators for Equity, and MinnCAN.

Path was predictable

In the past, most successful Minneapolis School Board candidates followed a predictable path to office. Given races’ low profile and the city’s liberal demographics, most voters paid no attention to the contests. They simply looked for the DFL’s endorsed candidate on the ballot.

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There were candidate forums, of course, but the way to secure said endorsement was to solicit endorsements from the city’s unions, which usually — but not always — followed the lead of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. This put the MFT in the sweet and totally understandably desired position of having tremendous influence in selecting the boards with which it would negotiate.

For a while, this influence was tempered by a parallel endorsing process involving the progressive organizing coalition Take Action Minnesota. But that group dropped out a couple of election cycles ago to concentrate on other, higher-level races.

This year, a fissure opened. In May, the city DFL convention adjourned after failing to endorse in a pivotal race.

Several dropped out

Several of the candidates in that race, District 6, then dropped out altogether, leaving a horse race only in the newly created District 4. That is the only race likely to be influenced by anything said at Monday’s forum.

A better question is how packed the house will be, and whether the other groups — several of which have sizable constituencies to deliver to a candidate — can coalesce into a new vetting bloc.

The lovingly tended brainchild of former Mayor Don Fraser, the Committee on the Achievement Gap used to be a sort of DFL sub-caucus of education geeks. Now proudly multipartisan, it holds regular brown-bag lunches in both Minneapolis and St. Paul at which local and national ed policy luminaries speak.

The African American Leadership Forum (AALF), now under the directorship of former MPS board member Chris Stewart, is a 4-year-old effort that has grown to include 160 African-American leaders in law, government, business, education, religion and the arts. Its education platform includes numerous reforms the district has been unsuccessful negotiating with its unions.

Multi-member collaboration

AALF is a member of the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative, an organizing effort that includes 11 community groups representing a number of racial and ethnic groups and the social justice group ISAIAH. Its support was instrumental in passage of MPS’ most recent referendum.

The newest of the groups is Empowering Educators for Equity, a small organization of teachers who are interested in alternatives to traditional union contracts that would enable more change in education.

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Finally, MinnCAN is a 2-year-old policy advocacy group that is mobilizing support for education reform both among the general public and at the Capitol. Its backers run the gamut from Twin Cities philanthropic groups to corporate executives and civic leaders.

Will the fissure become a political fault line? Why not show up at Plymouth Congregational Monday and find out.