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Mammen, Asberry vie to lead MPS board

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.

Dick Mammen

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. 

Tracine Asberry

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.

Other offices

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.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/11/2013 - 01:38 pm.

    Could you mention Mammen’s incredibly ….

    broad experience in education in this city ? This guy goes way,way back struggling on behalf of the students of Minneapolis. I think you undeservedly pidgeonhole and sandbag his credentials by referring to his letter in support of teachers. I might mention most of the work he has done through the years have been with alternative schools. These schools were very different then the charter schools we know today. The sites had the sort of gravitais we give the freedom schools of the 1960’s. I would say there is no one on the current board with more experience with education in Minneapolis!is the Mammen. Look up his history or better yet interview him and cover it here. Don’t miss the opportunity. He is a hero.

  2. Submitted by BT Thomas on 12/12/2013 - 06:25 pm.

    I am a Minneapolis parent who reads this blog as one place to get coverage on MPS. That MinnPost has an outlet I am grateful for. However, I guess it is increasingly unclear to me if the purpose of the blog is solely unvarnished advocacy (like this post) or if this blog is meant to be at least sometimes be a “reporting” outlet of MinnPost for education issues, in which case it lacks objectivity. That was true with the recent post on the enrollment plan as well. Relying solely on the views of Mr. Stewart is going to create a very one-sided picture indeed. Anyway, that is for MinnPost to decide in terms of what sort of reporting credibility it wants for this Learning Curve “blog.” The desperation in this space to advance the agenda of a particular, self-styled brand of “reformers” is palpable.

    In any event, as an Area C parent, I and some of my fellow Area C residents have been quite disappointed with Director Asberry. She was elected as the District 6 rep, which the way the School Board is now structured, for better or worse, is distinguished from a “citywide” representative and has a defined constituency in the south/southwest area of the city. I share the commitment of the school board to make the District work for all students and its focus – shared by many on the Board, including Director Mammen – on equity. I appreciate Director Asberry’s work on those issues and want it to continue. But she has been invisible on Area C issues and advocacy and left a very big and very important void in the enrollment plan discussion and otherwise on issues that impact Area C. The entire enrollment plan was defined around changes within each Area, and directors like Arneson, Reimnitz, and Ellison all worked and advocated for their particular constituencies while keeping perspective on the entire District. Asberry did not advocate for her constituency, whether at the Board meetings or in Area C meetings. Again, the entire District is and should be the interest of every Board member, but no apologies need be given by any of the specific area reps to advocate and support improvements within their zones. Asberry seems not to want to do that for Area C. We need our representative to advocate for Area C, particularly given the attitudes of some in the District – on and off the Board – towards it.

    Ms. Hawkins views nearly everything through the lens of whether she believes someone is for or against the teacher’s union. I think that unfortunate, but that is her prerogative and her voice. I am viewing Asberry through the lens of whether she is unapologetically committed to serving the area she was elected to represent on the Board in addition to serving the District as a whole. There has been no evidence of that.

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