Twin Cities mayors chide Pawlenty for ‘missing the mark’ on his school control proposal

If Minnesota DFLers are to be believed, Machiavelli is rolling over in his grave: Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal Thursday to hand the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul control over their respective school districts may or may not have ignited the public’s passions, but it certainly opened the door wide for the governor’s critics — including both mayors — to charge through.

Both Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a gubernatorial candidate himself, and St. Paul’s Chris Coleman hustled to issue statements suggesting that Pawlenty had missed the mark.

Rybak seized the moment as an opportunity to goad the governor on education funding: “I hope we can take Gov. Pawlenty’s announcement today as a sign that he wants to become more engaged in the hands-on work of improving our schools, as Mayor Coleman and I are already doing.”

“And while I’m very interested in talking with the governor about how to best help our schools teach our children, mayoral control is not the central issue,” Rybak said in a written statement. “Giving schools and the people who work in them the tools, resources, and support they need is.”

Mayor R.T. Rybak
Mayor R.T. Rybak

Coleman, too, jabbed Pawlenty for suggesting that mayors would be more likely than elected school boards to implement changes he has pushed for, such as reforming teacher tenure and more closely tying pay to performance.

“Mayoral control is a conversation worth having,” Coleman said. “That discussion has to start, however, with treating educators with the respect they deserve. As cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and others have illustrated, mayoral control is not the only solution for student success.”

Pawlenty’s speech only raised tensions in Twin Cities school districts, which are still struggling to deal with his decision last summer to “unallot” $1.5 billion in state school funding last summer and postpone $423 million in payments due to local districts in March and April. Although the governor has said he will not touch K-12 education funding — a promise he made during last year’s legislative session — he also said Thursday that he wants the Legislature to ratify last year’s unallotments.

The governor is expected to release his budget proposal Monday.

Even school districts in relatively prosperous parts of the metro area, including Pawlenty’s home turf of Eagan, are spending down scant reserves. Many expect to begin borrowing in coming weeks.

Outgoing Minneapolis Superintendent Bill Green, facing a short-term deficit of $49 million this spring, declined to comment on the proped mayoral control. But Minneapolis Board Chair Tom Madden called it “a distraction.”

Mayor Chris Coleman
Mayor Chris Coleman

“If people think it’s a silver bullet, they’re naïve,” he said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time visiting and studying districts that have had some success turning around underperforming schools, and there are a lot of factors that go into that. Sometimes mayoral control is one and sometimes it isn’t.

“More importantly, in all honesty, he should worry about paying back the money he owes us before he worries about other things,” said Madden.

St. Paul School Board Chair Elona Street-Stewart accused Pawlenty of demonizing two districts for problems that are widespread.

“For too long, the achievement gap has been considered a city issue and not a statewide crisis,” she said. “I see that with the governor’s latest proposal, he continues to create distractions in Minnesota’s city centers and pit local governments against each another, rather than address the statewide achievement gap.”

Both Rybak and Coleman have been strong advocates for education and services to youth. Like many other urban mayors, they see reforming public education as an economic development issue.

Coleman’s “Second Shift” initiative, which uses circulating buses to give kids rides to after-school learning centers, has won national praise, as have the city’s early childhood education scholarships.

In addition to a number of youth-oriented initiatives, Rybak has been a steady proponent of the reform efforts under way in Minneapolis Public Schools. Two years ago, when the Minneapolis board voted to undertake the painful, controversial process, he made a point of showing up at the meeting and promising board members full support.

Much to the irritation of teachers’ unions, school board associations, and the reform organization Council of Great City Schools, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last spring that he would stake his tenure as a Cabinet official on increasing mayoral control of schools.

While not new — until the mid-’60s, St. Paul schools were controlled by the mayor — the concept has gained recent political traction because test scores and superintendent tenure have gone up under mayoral control in Boston, Chicago, and New York. It’s unclear whether the mayor’s leadership made the difference.

Many of the Minneapolis reforms are modeled on those under way in Boston, where former Minneapolis schools leader Carol Johnson is superintendent. And both cities have consulted recently with her predecessor, Tom Payzant, who is credited with creating Boston’s “pilot schools” and other successful new programs.

Pawlenty vowed to move forward with some of his own reforms with or without the mayors, announcing that he had directed the state Department of Education to create an Office of Turnaround Schools that will use federal stimulus money to address problems at up to 40 of Minnesota’s lowest-performing schools.

Part of the state’s application for a share of the Obama Administration’s controversial Race to the Top grant money, the office would have greater oversight over those schools.

Beth Hawkins writes about education and other topics.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 02/12/2010 - 12:11 pm.

    Everything Governor-in-name-only Tim Pawlenty says should be taken with dump truck full of road salt, in that almost every word is said with the idea of advancing his name in the Republican nomination for the president.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/12/2010 - 01:27 pm.

    This is an excellent idea. It’s high time we hang a DFL sign above the ruins they’ve created.

    It’s no surprise Coleman and Rybak are in a grand mal panic attack….they’re much too busy driving their cities into the tank to take on that work for the schools.

    But they needn’t be concerned; the got friends in the teachers union that have been doing most of the heavy demo work since ’61; they can crater the public system with their eyes closed.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Schapiro on 02/12/2010 - 02:57 pm.


    It is the lobby arm of most of the largest school disticts in the U.S. It far as I know, never before been classified as a “reform organiztion.”

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 02/12/2010 - 02:57 pm.

    If only we had elected *someone* from West St. Paul to represent on the School Board we’d no doubt be in a better place.

    Sounds like sour grapes from a former School Board candidate whose ideas and vision were soundly rejected in the polls of public opinion.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 02/12/2010 - 03:58 pm.

    Thomas Swift writes
    “It’s no surprise Coleman and Rybak are in a grand mal panic attack….they’re much too busy driving their cities into the tank to take on that work for the schools.”

    That’s a pretty amusing assesment. When I heard the Gov’s proposal, I was wondering why he thought mayors were experts on running schools & should add that responsibility to their already full plates. I still haven’t heard a rational answer; saying “it worked in Chicago or Boston or New York” seems reliant on the dubious claim that correlation equals casuation. As far as the tenures of Ryback & Coleman it seems to me both have done well for their cities and maintained services while balancing their budgets – something the Governor cannot claim.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 02/12/2010 - 06:21 pm.

    Funny is when you have a governor whose rhetoric includes less government. Now he suggests creating a whole new government bureaucracy called the “Office of Turnaround Schools” //that will use federal stimulus money to address problems at up to 40 of Minnesota’s lowest-performing schools.//

    Apparently bigger government is fine as long as it’s his idea.

  7. Submitted by M Grier on 02/12/2010 - 08:15 pm.

    Mr. Swift takes a nice jab making fun of Minnesotans with epilepsy (using obsolete medical terms).

    I’d like to see Pawlenty and the GOP side with the DFL on their pro-business proposal to give Minnesotans the freedom to buy and sell cars on Sundays. Also good for revenue, this measure would help close the massive deficit Pawlenty is leaving for us without raising taxes. Might even help us pay for education!

    Good old “borrow and spend” Pawlenty! No wonder he’s quitting.

  8. Submitted by Jon Graves on 02/13/2010 - 05:40 pm.

    More money means better education. When will the Mayors stop. If the whine of the two cities were used to find answers for the local support of the kids that is the only place the environment will improve. 90% or more of how good the education is = the parents, the home and their immediate community. When does the crying for more money stop. It has become a professional whine for the need for money from some other source federal and state. Let’s stop the process of sending dollars to the federal and state which then has to be sent back. I think government employees benefit from the broken down system, but no one else.

    If money will be distributed based on the professional whine, then all of us better start becoming a professional whinner. Cities have resources that is what should be used. If more is needed redistribute from your own funds not mine. When you send a dollar to the state your not going to get a dollar back. You will get plenty of whinning for more than the $1 you sent.

    If it takes more $ per student in one city than another the city behind better figure what it takes to catch up, because any extra financial help better be temporary or throwing more dollars after it never gets it done.

    Maybe we should all hire someone to lobby for us. The successful people well be those who have had the best lobbyist. Get your government job – thye are one of the very few that will continue to hire.

    Department of educations at the federal, state, didtrict and local area. figure it out the cost of education adminstration per pupil today vs. 40 years ago. You can adjust for inflation – adminitration it works for those working it.

    I hope we learn soon it is obvious, but no one seems to think educational system is broken and the ones are hoping it does not get fixed.

  9. Submitted by M Grier on 02/14/2010 - 11:59 pm.

    Nice prose, Mr. Graves. Plenty of complaining about whiners, but not a single solution.

  10. Submitted by dan buechler on 02/15/2010 - 04:21 pm.

    I apologize for my tardiness on this but a prior poster here seems to overlook the legacy of segregation which loomed and looms large in Mpls and St. Paul a multi volume book could be written. Read family properties race, realestate and the explotation of black america 495 pages for $30 by beryl satter. This would be good for your new pieces on Minnpost community voices and something else which I cannot remember the name.

  11. Submitted by william lynott on 02/15/2010 - 08:05 pm.

    Mr Graves: the rich and successful, as well as the wingnuts who hate government but love what it does for them, thank you for your service. But here’s a newsflash–they don’t care about you. They’re glad you’re there and posting–but they don’t care about you.

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