David Dayhoff: shaking up the system outside the DFL fold

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October 25, 2004 // UPDATED 4:28 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Bob Gilbert
Bob Gilbert

New parent wants better funding and Board communication, but less union influence

David Dayhoff just made the cut in the Sept. 14 Minneapolis School Board primary, nabbing the sixth and last spot among 16 candidates vying for the Nov. 2 ballot.

Dayhoff carries what many think is a liability; he is a Republican in a city where the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has a near-monopoly on elective offices.

However, Dayhoff is not just any Republican; he sought and received the endorsement of the fiscally conservative, socially liberal Independence Party and also earned the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian group.

That Dayhoff is not a DFLer could be seen in his unsuccessful bid for the teacher's union support. Answering their questionnaire about what role seniority should play in layoffs, the 34-year-old answered, "Last hired, first fired, is a bad way to manage talent."

Dayhoff believes he can bring diversity of political thought to the Board.

"The Board has a credibility problem at the State Legislature," Dayhoff said. "There are no Republicans in the Minneapolis delegation. Somebody has got to make a case for the Minneapolis schools at the Capitol. One advantage is that I don't have to sneak around the Capitol to talk to the Republican leadership because I don't care what the unions think or what the DFL thinks."

Unlike Republican legislators, however, Dayhoff thinks Minneapolis does not get enough school funding. He said funding is not keeping pace with inflation. As a result, basic personnel expenses like health insurance premiums are taking money out of the classrooms. He also thinks more money needs to go into special education.

He admits he's still learning parts of School District policy, but the Princeton graduate said he is a quick study and he learning more every day. After months of door-knocking, he said he has heard a common complaint.

"It is amazing to me how many times people ask me, 'Can you make a decision?' For many, that's their criteria of whether they will support a candidate or not," Dayhoff said.

Dayhoff says that schools should have been closed last year. The way the Board sprang the decision on the community, then backed down after protests was a mistake, he said.

"I think we need new people on the Board just to repair its image and its credibility," he added. "The image problem is significant because it is responsible for the stampede of students out of the district. There are a lot of great schools in Minneapolis, but there has been nothing but a drumbeat of bad news about the schools for several years. A lot of families are opting out on the basis of perception and not reality."

Dayhoff's biggest criticism of the seven-member School Board is poor communication with parents. The result, he feels, is that people don't know what's going on at district headquarters or at individual schools.

He said he has only just grasped teacher realignment, which struck him as outrageous.

This summer, because of budget cuts, the district fired most nontenured teachers and then realigned many survivors into unfamiliar subject areas in which they'd been licensed but may never have actually taught, to preserve overall seniority. The district has said state law required such a policy; others thought officials could have more aggressively challenged that interpretation in court.

Said Dayhoff, "Realignment is a further demonstration on the part of the union and on the part of the school district of really failing to be forward-looking at all. In the past few years, we have totally destroyed the pipeline of new teachers in the district."

Since student enrollment is not likely to increase next year, Dayhoff thinks realignment may resurface next summer, and that the Board needs a more specific policy soon. He believes the Board should ask any teacher who doesn't feel qualified to teach a specific subject, to give up that license, he said.

"Every principal I talked to wished that they could hire their own staff and control who are on their team instead of having them get bumped or bid out through situations like realignment," Dayhoff said. "Principals should have more control of their schools."

Dayhoff -- who became a father four months ago when wife Aimee gave birth to son, Wyatt -- has helped create a charter high school that will open in the Maple Grove area next fall. It features a citizenship- and civics-based curriculum.

Though Minneapolis itself sponsors several charter schools (which are public, but controlled at the school level), Dayhoff said many teachers were angry about his involvement because they think charters cherry-pick students while traditional school classrooms get stuck with the problem students.

District officials have also complained that charters cut support for noncharter public school kids because the district has to bus kids further.

So aren't charter schools part of the problem?

"They are a symptom of the problem, but not the problem," Dayhoff said. "People who want to throw bricks at charter schools are missing the point, and the point is this: the world around the Minneapolis public schools has changed much faster than the world within it. They are not adapting well to changes in law, in demographics and technology.

"We should not be using charter schools as an excuse for the shortcomings of our own system," he said. "They are not going away; parents really like them because of their sense of community, innovative programming, their smaller size and the perception of safety and discipline."

The Shelbyville, Ind. native got his Princeton undergraduate degree in Spanish and Portuguese. He worked for Indiana Republican U.S. Senator Richard Lugar on the Senate Agriculture Committee. He later earned a master's degree at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Affairs.

Dayhoff came to Minnesota in 1997 to work for Cargill, Inc. His responsibilities include corporate marketing and administration. He often travels to South American because of his language skills.

He may be a dark horse, but he thinks he is a clear alternative to the status quo.

"I am not running because I have some partisan axe to grind [but] because we urgently need to try something new." Dayhoff said.