Not since the unhappy era when Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) bought out the contract of reviled Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles has a school board meeting been brought to a halt by audience anger.
Tuesday night in the wake of a vote that selected Mohamud Noor to fill the seat vacated when Hussein Samatar died in August, chaos broke out in the board meeting room at district headquarters. With audience members — many of them supporters of Samatar’s widow, Ubah Jama, shouting and demanding answers, Board Chair Alberto Monserrate gaveled the meeting to a recess.
The source of the frustration: After hearing 11th-hour pitches from supporters of two of the candidates, Monserrate announced the board would choose via ranked-choice voting on paper ballots to be tallied by MPS’ general counsel.
Audience asked about votes
Moments later, Noor’s election by a first-round majority was announced. As Monserrate moved to the next item on the evening’s agenda, audience members started asking what the vote was and which board members had cast which votes.
Monserrate and board member Dick Mammen declared some of those in attendance out of order. For 15 minutes, audio and video of the meeting was cut. Some board members left the dais while others stood there, seeming confused.
At the end of the break, the board moved on to the issuance of bonds without comment. Many of the angry community members left.
Tally was 5-3
An hour later after requests from reporters and others district communications staff released the 5-3 vote’s tally: Monserrate, Mammen, Jenny Arneson, Kim Ellison and Josh Reimnitz voted for Noor, while Carla Bates, Tracine Asberry and Rebecca Gagnon voted for Jama.
One of those doing the shouting was Al Flowers, a community activist and frequent critical fixture at board meetings over the last decade. Samatar was one of several MPS leaders who took pains to reach out to Flowers and in particular to create relationships between the East African immigrant community and native-born African Americans.
At the September meeting where the process for filling the seat was established, several community members and board member Asberry called for transparency and for greater community engagement.
The meeting, which also included a tough evaluation of Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and a late-night presentation on an urgent gap-closing strategy, lasted a highly unusual six hours.