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School board’s approval of $375,000 contract for Al Flowers-related group drawing questions

At its May 27 meeting, the Minneapolis School Board approved a budget of almost $550 million. Before their vote, board members were walked through a breakdown containing highlights of the financial package.

There were small pots money for programs ranging from support for girls interested in science to efforts to keep struggling learners in the classroom. There were modest funds for the hiring of additional teachers if enrollment grows in the fall. There was an item — the one-time expenditure of $5 million for English language learners — that sparked controversy because it was an 11th-hour addition. And another — $200,000 for the newly created Office of Black Male Student Achievement — that raised eyebrows among some who believe the amount to be too low.

CSI’s logo

Curiously, there was no discussion of a $375,000 amendment to a contract issued to a group called the Community Standards Initiative (CSI), which aims to generate positive interactions and engagement between Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and its communities of color. Instead, that item was approved at the board’s previous meeting, with no public discussion. It was included in the consent agenda, which is supposed to contain items of routine, ongoing business that do not involve major budget or policy decisions.

(Other items on the same consent agenda included the purchase of fuel oil to top off district heating tanks, the purchase of literacy and science textbooks for fifth-graders and numerous student transportation contracts.)

CSI founder is Al Flowers

Over the last couple of days, the district’s dealings with CSI have been the subject of a quiet round of questioning among district insiders, one of whom brought it to MinnPost’s attention. Why now? The group’s founder is community activist Al Flowers, a frequent critic of MPS whose name is in the headlines after an encounter with Minneapolis police over the weekend left him battered.

The item passed as a part of the May 13 consent agenda brought the total the district will spend with CSI to $405,000. According to documents attached to the agenda the contract will run from June 19, 2014, to June 19, 2016.

According to the description of the contract contained in the consent agenda, CSI is a “niche or specialty” vendor that will provide “Deliverables set in the areas of Youth Development & Community Engagement, School Intervention and Health and Wellness.”

Despite having attended the vast majority of the board meetings over the last year, the author was unaware of the CSI contract until Monday.

The Saturday Flowers-police incident has sparked calls for an independent investigation, as well as more racial sensitivity within the Minneapolis Police Department. Flowers has appeared bruised and with a bloody eye in this publication and others. There are some members of the MPS community who, while unwilling to criticize Flowers, are asking about the size and nature of the CSI contract.

District representatives Wednesday referred questions about Flowers to Clarence Hightower, who is CSI’s fiscal agent and administrator. The group’s contracts with MPS are signed by Hightower. CSI materials circulating since the idea was announced are clearly marked with Flowers’ name as author. 

Campaign to ‘get back to good’

Here is what appears to be on the record so far. In August 2011, Flowers and several other community activists held a press conference in North Minneapolis announcing a campaign to “get back to good.”

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In April 2012, Hightower elaborated in a presentation to the school board on progress made by the group using two $15,000 grants from MPS and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. The idea, he explained, was to engage the city’s 87 neighborhoods, the park system and churches in “getting back to good.”

CSI would work on increasing student attendance and parental involvement. And it would field a “critical response team” that would work to “defuse tense situations,” “establish a ‘climate check’ ” and restore “positive behavior at the scene.”

More details would be forthcoming once the group had an idea how much funding MPS would be able to supply, Hightower told the board. His New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church served as fiscal agent for the program.

It’s unclear what happened in the intervening two years. According to planning materials [PDF] prepared by Flowers, CSI was to have launched in MPS in the spring of 2012 [PDF].

Facebook page appears inactive

In July of 2013 a Facebook page was created; it has garnered 28 likes and currently appears inactive. A bill that would have appropriated $350,000 for the effort failed to make it out of committee in the 2013 Legislature.

It is worth noting that at the April 2012 meeting a somewhat differently configured school board seemed delighted to hear that the community effort was in the works. Several said they were anxious to hear details.

The two contracts [PDF 1, PDF 2] between MPS and CSI list very specific activities and specify attendance goals and desired outcomes. Major activities include staging a number of community events, training students on conflict resolution and identifying students who would benefit from referral to mental health services.

The agreement includes funds to pay for several part-time positions, including a program manager and staff in each school. Payments will be made when the activities outlined have been performed.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/30/2014 - 05:26 pm.

    Someone, please, tell us again about how public schools are under funded.

  2. Submitted by Donald Allen on 07/30/2014 - 07:53 pm.

    The Minneapolis Public School Board Lied to me on this one

    This is funny. I sent the Minneapolis Public Schools and request for information on the monies they have paid into the CSI Program. Below is the following email they sent me:

    Dear Mr. Allen,
    In response to your request for amounts paid to New Bethel Baptist Church, or New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church as fiscal agent for CSI, Minneapolis Public Schools made the following payments beginning 1/1/2011 to the date of your request, 5/12/2014.
    1. 12/2/2011 $10,500.00

    2. 1/12/2012 $4,500.00

    3. 6/21/2013 $11,000.00

    4. 2/27/2014 $30,000.00

    Sincerely,
    Nan A. S. Miller
    Responsible Authority
    Office of the General Counsel
    N2-243 John B. Davis Educational Service Center
    1250 Broadway Avenue W.
    Minneapolis, MN 55411
    612.668.0384

    Please make all further data requests or correspondence regarding data requests to MPS.DataRequests@mpls.k12.mn.us

    It seems like the MPS likes playing games.

    • Submitted by Matt Touchette on 07/31/2014 - 09:15 am.

      We shouldn’t pass judgement without all of the facts…

      Without seeing the contracts we don’t really know how CSI was to be paid. However, the final line of the article, “Payments will be made when the activities outlined have been performed”, leads me to believe that while the contracts may include hundreds of thousands in payments, the payments are only made upon completion of certain objectives outlined in the contracts. If that is the case, then you may not have received faulty information.

      This article/blog does not have all of the information and appears to be more of a commentary and observational response to the situation involving CSI, which appears to have been done solely because CSI is attached to Mr. Flowers and Mr. Flowers has been in the news. This article/blog does not appear to have been written to actually provide a neutral representation of the facts and is more opinion than informative. That’s just my take though.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/31/2014 - 04:38 pm.

    Okay, Beth. So there are folks in MPS who want the Flowers plans and grants since 2011, and the gigantic expansion in the undiscussed newly-budgeted amount, to be brought up in public. You’ve done that, but without any detail except that there’s a moribund Facebook page about the ostensible program.

    I remember when Flowers pitched this plan to the schools, and remember thinking that he had really intimidated Minneapolis Public Schools, from board to staff, by making a lot of noise. He was given $15,000 (which turned into some $56,000 so far, according to Don Allen), and now we’re looking at something totally close to $400,000.

    For what? What’s been done? Where’s the “better” in the schools, much less the “good” Flowers and his allies tout? Or, if it’s in the community that the schools are giving him money to effect change, where is that improvement? From what efforts?

    It looks like a scam to me. And he’s getting away with it. Give us more details. Facts.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/31/2014 - 07:58 pm.

      Yes, what deliverables ?? What actions ?? What are we buying??

      Things we’re paying for noted in the article, like…

      …“getting back to good.”
      …work on increasing student attendance and parental involvement
      …to field a “critical response team”
      …work to “defuse tense situations,”
      …establish a ‘climate check’
      …restore “positive behavior at the scene.”

      …are NOT anything you could call “deliverables” !! If you could even call these “goals”, they represent little more than indefinite and perhaps even indefinable aspirations, the kind of double-talk you could whip up while working your way into a six-pack of beer.

      Listing these things and asking for money in return represents a certain amount of chutzpah.

      So if what we’re buying is so vague, could we at least get a description of what ACTUAL PEOPLE in this organization are going to ACTUALLY DO in order to advance these things, and a SCHEDULE of when they are going to do the same ?? And while dreaming of a better world, is it too much to ask how we will know if these formless goals have been realized ??

      Sheesh !!!

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/31/2014 - 04:57 pm.

    Is it too late to ask…

    Are not direct payments to a religious organization a violation of the separation clause? Do we have a firewall of some kind between this churches religious program and it’s community program?

    Not only that, but some of these activities, assuming they’re well intentioned, seem to be more along the line of community policing and outreach, that looks like a lot of money to pull out of the School budget, I mean:

    “And it would field a “critical response team” that would work to “defuse tense situations,” “establish a ‘climate check’ ” and restore “positive behavior at the scene.”

    What “scene”? Shouldn’t that be “school”? or “classroom”?

  5. Submitted by Michael Johnson on 07/31/2014 - 06:05 pm.

    Consent Agendas

    “Despite having attended the vast majority of the board meetings over the last year, the author was unaware of the CSI contract until Monday.”

    I don’t know whether to be surprised or just chalk it up to the general ignorance of most people, but to cover board meetings for a year and not be aware of how routinely local government bodies will get things passed by getting them put on the consent agenda… well, I thought anyone who worked in and around government knew that. I guess that doesn’t include reporters. In short, if you are not checking the consent agenda you are not doing your job. Or, at least, you don’t know how to do your job.

  6. Submitted by Terry James on 08/01/2014 - 11:16 pm.

    Hit Piece

    Flowers has been vocal in his mistrust of the former mayor and Samuels. He’s also not a fan of charter schools. The MinnPost Kramer family needs Samuels to win school board seat to help continue to break up MPS for the Kramer charter school business.

  7. Submitted by Ladan Yusuf on 08/08/2014 - 03:41 pm.

    School Board’s Approval 375,000 Contract with Al Flowers and CSI

    There are lot of irregularities with how Clarence Hightower, his crew conduct business, and serve the community as appointed officials and civil servants. Hightower tried to harass, bully and blacklist our organization http://www.crossingbarriers.org, (CB) and me in particular because I would not play along with his dirty games. Our non-profit at the time was located in the building of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties, in St. Paul. Since 2006 they have been our fiscal agent and Clarence Hightower became the E.D. in 2008. Clarence knew of our work well, and heard about it around town,as we work with youth of color including immigrant youth at different sites in Minneapolis Parks and Recreation and other sites. He wanted to use our program’s curriculum of youth development to present it as CSI work in November of 2013 with the plans he has had with MPS. Well, when I said no, god knows what happened! I knew of Hightower’s reputation, and I watched him bully me and others many times as our office were in the same building, and we faced each other for five years. So I had every reason to get away from his dealings. Anyway, when I said no to his shady dealings, Hightower began to harass, bully and retaliate against me. I have over 50 documents to prove this.

    I filed a complaint against him for these actions to his board, his board failed to address it. He retaliated, and took us to court to evict us. Our complaint went to D. C. Cap Agency, to the State’s Agency, to the Attorney General, to Department of Human Rights to politicians at the legislature that he is close to. The more I complained the more he harassed. He said he we owed him rent that was never invoiced to us from 18 months prior that his operation manager over looked to deduct from the grants they managed for us. As our fiscal agent, they kept all of our grants, and earned interest on them. When he took us to court to try to evict us, he used tax dollars from Community Action to spend on huge legal fees from a very expense law firm. During court he manipulated his board to think that he has a strong case against us.But yet their mission is to support community based organization such as CrossingBarriers which is the reason why they agreed to be CB’s fiscal agent in 2006. During court we proved that Hightower was committing fraud, did not pay us interest they earned our keeping our grants , and used our youth photos as photos of Community Action so he can get more money from the State. So he actually owed us money. Since we were small grassroots immigrant based organization with small funds, he knew we did not have access to the state, and his political allies at the State level to MPS that supported him, and ignored the issue. Everything is documented in court. He lost the first case. Then he filed again, this time he used a statue that would not discuss fees owed, but for us to vacate the space we were renting from his agency. He spent more money to fight us where he used more if the agency tax dollars that is suppose to go to low income families such as headstart, energy assistance, etc. that was designed to end poverty. These are all tax dollars from the Federal Government from the Department of Health and Human Services. When we moved out of his building and ran away from his harassment, he failed to take us to court as we were hoping he would so we can collect what he owes us. Currently, we are looking for any pro-bono lawyers that will help us with our case where he committed fraud and copy right infringement, bullying and harassment against CrossingBarriers and me.This is all as because he tried to use our work as his own in North Minneapolis with this contract at MPS and also at Community Action. It is all documented at Ramsey Courts 62 HG CV 14 587. All of the politicians, and so called community leaders saw what was happening, ignored it, now look at what is coming out that is failed leadership, and waste of our tax money.

    I remember warning two board members of MPS about him on June 3 in writing, and saying how can you as responsible board members give contract to this man as the fiscal agent of this contract knowing all of the bad history and what he has done. Hightower also has been in the press about MNSCU issues and dealings there that have many people questioning what is going on as his dealings continues to compromise the public trust as a civil servant, and the responsible leaders for his promotion , and status look the other way.

    http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/content/mnscu-change-experts-2-million-contract-raises-questions

    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/264042301.html#qdQKZzEwPWvBqpLW.97

    Thank you for article, the truth will come out more as this goes on. If anyone knows of a good law firm that stand up for the little guys please have them contact me at ladanyusuf@crossingbarriers.org

    Sincerely,
    Ladan Yusuf, Executive Director,

    CrossingBarriers, http://www.crossingbarriers.org

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