WINDOM — Flanked by five members of the Minneapolis Board of Education, mayoral candidate Mark Andrew on Monday announced his plan to narrow the achievement gap in Minneapolis Public Schools.
Also joining Andrew were former teachers union president Louise Sundin and trial attorney Mike Ciresi, recruited by the candidate to head his Mayor's Council on Education. A key piece of the three-point plan announced in a press conference in the library of Windom Dual Immersion School, the proposed council would bring together community leaders to find common ground on hot-button issues like class sizes, teacher evaluation and the amount of time students spend in school.
Those are all issues dealt with in the teachers contract, an agreement the mayor has no role in negotiating. But the lack of direct influence on schools hasn’t stopped several of this year’s mayoral candidates, including City Council members Betsy Hodges and Don Samuels, from releasing detailed education plans.
Andrew’s plan also includes putting $10 million in the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which the candidate said he’d include in his first budget, if elected. An outline of Andrew’s proposal handed out at the event noted some of the district’s biggest gaps are between the roughly 10 percent of students considered homeless or highly mobile and their peers with stable housing.
Andrew tied housing instability to economic instability and also emphasized the need for job creation, transit infrastructure improvements and public safety investments.
Finally, Andrew called for a focusing of the work done by the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, a partnership between the city, schools, Hennepin County and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board that promotes the health and safety of young people. He would have the board emphasize efforts to improve parental involvement, kindergarten readiness, out-of-school activities for students, graduation rates, student physical and mental health and college or career readiness.
Andrew said the Mayor's Council on Education was his top priority, and pledged to convene the group on his first day in office. Both Sundin — who led the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers for 22 years, until 2006 — and Ciresi —known both for winning the state a $7-billion settlement with big tobacco in 1998 and from a 2000 U.S. Senate run — will appoint an equal number of members to the council, he said.
Ciresi has helped direct millions in grant dollars to local educational efforts through a foundation run by his law firm, Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi. He called the disparities in outcomes for Minneapolis students “immoral” and the “greatest blemish” on the city’s reputation.
The current debate on education often pits unions against reformers, who some accuse of corporate ties and anti-union agendas. That the two sides are far apart on many issues “might be an understatement,” joked Sundin.
She said her aim with the council was to bring community leaders together for talks “with mutual respect until we find commonality.”
The School Board members present at the event — Rebecca Gagnon, Jenny Arneson, Kim Ellison, Richard Mammen and Alberto Monserrate, the board’s chair — represent a majority of the board that, since the death this summer of Hussein Samatar, has numbered eight members.