At their first regular meeting of each year, the members of the Minneapolis School Board elect and seat their officers. It’s important because the officers, and particularly the board chair, exercise tremendous influence over the work to be done in the new year.
The chair meets frequently with the superintendent. He or she has great but not complete power in determining what goes on the board’s agenda — and what doesn’t. He or she can keep the other directors well informed — or not. And the chair sets the tone — a not small thing for a group of people with strongly held, divergent opinions.
In years past the matter typically has been discussed at a board meeting that, by law, must be public, but not at one of the board’s regularly scheduled, well-attended meetings.
If nominations for chair, vice-chair, clerk and treasurer are not contested, the January election is a fait accompli. If there are competitors, the hopefuls have the holidays to call their fellow directors and press their case.
Some of the meetings have been off-site, some retreats. Some years a citizen or two show up, but really, who is going to leave work in the middle of the day to attend a short confab with an agenda slugged “board operations”?
Likely a vote on Jan. 14
Tuesday afternoon, 3½ hours before its regularly scheduled meeting, the board convened in a conference room across the hall from the auditorium where it usually meets. Two frostbitten reporters were in attendance, and two board members expressed interest in chairing the body in 2014. And so on Jan. 14 most likely there will be a public vote.
Among other items, the new chair will guide the board’s oversight of the district’s ongoing, closed-door negotiations with its teachers union — a topic the board, by law, also discusses behind closed doors. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson is seeking major changes to the contract.
The candidates for chair, Dick Mammen and Tracine Asberry, could not be more different. Stylistically, the two are likely to view governance very differently.
Asberry’s first year on the board was characterized by an unrelenting focus on equity. And she has stepped into the role of the director who bedevils the details, who presses staff and board members for specifics on how policy will be implemented and how accountability will look.
Mammen is viewed as sympathetic to the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT). He was one of several board members who signed a letter on MFT letterhead criticizing his predecessors’ relations with the union and campaigned for pro-MFT mayoral candidate Mark Andrew. He can be brusque.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mammen said he had spoken to all of his colleagues except Asberry and Bates about his interest in the chair position. Asberry said she hoped her colleagues would hear her out as she called them about her candidacy in coming days.
Jenny Arneson was the lone director Tuesday to express interest in the vice-chair position, which she has held for the last two years. Kim Ellison was the only board member to nominate herself for clerk.
Rebecca Gagnon and Carla Bates both expressed interest in the treasurer’s post. Gagnon, who holds the seat now, said she has time to educate people in the community about district finances. Bates expressed concern about the district’s large, complicated equity funding project.
A final note: The current slate of directors was first in modern memory that did not include an African-American officer. Outgoing Chair Alberto Monserrate, who is Puerto Rican, is the body’s lone minority member.