Minneapolis School Board’s Pam Costain is changing educational ‘hats’ but not program efforts

Outgoing Minneapolis School Board member Pam Costain has found a soft landing place: In late June, she will join AchieveMpls, a private nonprofit that works to support Minneapolis Public Schools.

As the organization’s new president and CEO, she will work to mobilize support for schools from city and business leaders and oversee a number of initiatives within the schools themselves.

It’s a job description Costain might as well have written herself. A former Wellstone campaign aide, Costain’s background includes several nonprofit leadership roles. She was executive director of the Resource Center of the Americas for 14 years and was a founder of the grass-roots political training organization Wellstone Action and of Parents United for Public Education.

Costain chaired the board of education during the first year of her term. On her watch, the board engineered a sweeping overhaul of the school system, which was hemorrhaging students and credibility with the community.

The reforms begun that year are still under way, but three of their architects — Costain, current board Chair Tom Madden and member Chris Stewart — are not seeking re-election this fall. All three said their decision in large part was personal: Board service is supposedly a part-time, volunteer commitment but consumes so much time it’s hard to hold a paying job.

Pam Costain

Pam Costain

“The fact is I can no longer afford to be a school board member,” Costain explained at the time she announced her decision. “The combined salary and expense stipend of less than $14,000 a year does not even cover the cost of my health care and professional expenses, let alone provide a modest wage. While others have managed to work this out differently, I personally have not figured out how to do the job with anything less than a full-time commitment.”

Costain said her new job came about serendipitously. Recently, Catherine Jordan, who had headed AchieveMpls since its founding eight years ago, announced she was stepping down.

Costain was already working closely with Mayor R.T. Rybak — a vocal supporter of the district’s reform efforts — incoming Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and other stakeholders to try to turn rhetorical support from business and civic leaders into money, time and expertise. Which is exactly what AchieveMpls does.

“I’m very excited because I can’t think of a job that is a better fit for me personally and in terms of what I want to do,” said Costain. “I honestly believe this is a very exciting and hopeful time for MPS. A number of things are now coming together that will show results.”

When she starts the job in late June, Costain plans to work to support Johnson’s academic initiatives as well as help implement performance goals for the next several years that will be unveiled at next Tuesday’s district board meeting.

“I would also say on the failure of the state to implement Race to the Top and its reforms, we’ll be looking at how to implement those reforms in Minneapolis, rather than at a state level,” she added.

The meeting will be Costain’s last full board meeting. In order to take the AchieveMpls job, she had to resign her elected position as well as her position as vice chair of the Youth Coordinating Board.

The Minneapolis school board has authority to appoint someone to serve the six remaining months in her term. Whether it will do so and what process it might use have yet to be discussed.

“I just have to pinch myself,” Costain said. “I really did not want to leave MPS or the work that we’re undertaking.”

Beth Hawkins writes about schools, criminal justice and other topics.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 06/02/2010 - 06:09 pm.

    “As the organization’s new president and CEO, she will work to mobilize support for schools from city and business leaders and oversee a number of initiatives within the schools themselves.”

    What does it mean to “oversee” initiatives?
    What are these initiatives?
    How does an outside group gain permission to “oversee” any initiative?

  2. Submitted by Joe Musich on 06/02/2010 - 10:02 pm.

    An unelected offical implementing policy ?

  3. Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/03/2010 - 06:31 am.

    Perhaps Costain can get local businesses to pony up the projected $28M MPS budget shortfall.

    In 2008, we property tax payers voted ourselves an additional $1200 per student tax; half a billion over eight years. How are we still in a hole? Declining enrollment plays a part. 23% from 2001 to 2006; optimistic projection for 2006 to 2011 is an additional 14%. How will Costain convince business owners to invest in a system that is clearly in decline?

  4. Submitted by Ann Berget on 06/03/2010 - 11:12 am.

    What will Director Costain’s salary be? In 2008, former director Catherine Jordan’s compensation, $161K+, exceeded that of the MPS school superintendent. Will Costain’s contract be linked in any way to results?

  5. Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/03/2010 - 12:33 pm.

    That is substantially more compensation than the $98K combined salaries of all seven school board members. I am sure that her salary will be paid before a dollar of support from Minneapolis businesses reaches MPS.

    How well does that work when asking for contributions? Most of the business owners in Minneapolis make substantially less than half her salary.

  6. Submitted by Doug Mann on 08/04/2010 - 01:59 pm.

    Pam Costain new job raises a few ethical questions. Given the relationship between the Minneapolis Public Schools and Achieve Minneapolis, it would not only be improper for Pam to executive director of Achieve Minnepolis and a member of the MPS board, it is also improper for Achieve Minneapolis to hire an MPS board member. Pam was an MPS board member at time of hire. Not a bad career move for Pam. As executive director of Achieve Minneapolis she will get a 6 figure salary plus benefits.

    Achieve Minneapolis is the Minneapolis school district’s foundation. With a search engine, I found an organizational chart at the MPS that shows that Achieve Minneapolis reports to the MPS superintendent. One of the Achieve Minneapolis Board officers is also on the board of directors of the Minneapolis Public Schools. The MPS board members appear to do a rotation, with an different MPS board member serving on the Achieve Minneapolis board each year. Who picks the board members? I couldn’t copy of the Achieve Minneapolis bylaws. My guess is that the Achieve Minneapolis Board is picked by the district administration with MPS board approval.

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