If you just want to know who I'm planning to vote for because you trust me implicitly: T. Williams and Richard Mammen. If you want my blow-by-blow discussion of the full roster, read on.
I went to the City Convention back in April, where the DFL endorsed Dick Mammen and then adjourned without endorsing anyone else. I did a bunch of research before the convention, including watching a candidate forum. It was the candidate forum that sold me on T. Williams, the only incumbent running for re-election. The question was about what would be "untouchable" in the face of budget cuts, and everyone else was saying things like "class sizes" and T. shrugged and said, "you know, when there's a big enough deficit, nothing's untouchable. It can't be. You've got to go where the money is." Which is the sort of honest, realistic, unpalatable statement that I want to hear from a School Board Candidate.
Dick Mammen is a Director of Recreation for the parks; he seems intelligent and is really, really committed to kids. He was endorsed by both the Teacher's Union and the DFL, possibly because he's so overwhelmingly likable. If you're undecided, you can rest assured that the DFL endorsement will at least take him to the general election ballot and vote for someone else, but I liked him a lot at the convention, and he was enthusiastically endorsed by a lot of individuals I respect. (One person hesitated on the grounds that he was endorsed by the teacher's union; the union and the school board are currently negotiating a contract, and it's still up in the air and still highly contentious. While I'm not going to point at the union and say "ooooh, you're the bad guys!" the fact is that the school board is supposed to be on the other side of the table, focused on the needs of the kids, on those occasions when the needs of the kids and the needs of the teachers are in conflict.)
Chanda Smith Baker
I was warned before the convention that Chanda supports vouchers. She flatly denies it. Here's the thing: she wrote an editorial for the Star Tribune that was rather emphatically anti-MFT (although she's not anti-union across the board; she's endorsed by SEIU). Like T., she's a northsider. I wound up liking her a lot and she's my third choice (and if you dislike the idea of electing someone supported by the teacher's union, Chanda's your woman. The eye-popping quote from the editorial that pissed off the union so much: "Education Minnesota's hollow defense of the status quo is a cynical, morally bankrupt agenda, which focuses more on protecting the adult members of teacher unions than protecting the interests of the state's most vulnerable children")
Ironically, the other guy the teacher's union endorsed before the City Convention, David DeGrio, dropped out of the race and endorsed Chanda.
This one's easy; she dropped out of the race, but too late to get her name off the ballot.
Along with Dick Mammon, T. Williams, and Chanda Smith Baker, she got the nod from the Star Trib. I was not super impressed by her. She's only lived in Minneapolis for two years; I don't think you have to be a fourth generation resident or anything but seriously, two years? She seemed out of her depth on a lot of the questions asked during the forum.
He seemed OK but didn't have a particularly substantive answer on the budget-oriented questions.
Doesn't have a campaign website. I did find some other info about him, but you know what? if you don't have a campaign website (or even a facebook page) that I can find by Googling your name and the office you're running for, you're not a real candidate. Next!
Steven C. (Steve) Lasley
So, after DeGrio dropped out, the Teacher's Union had to endorse someone else. They picked this guy. Maybe because he's a retired teacher? Here is his platform, as found on his website:
FOCUS ON STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT AND ACADEMICS
INCREASE COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN STUDENTS, PARENTS, TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, AND COMMUNITY.
STRENGTHEN FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
Personally, I like to see some specifics when I'm endorsing a candidate. Oh, hey, he did provide some specifics on a questionnaire sent out by one of the local papers:
Here is my plan for the 21st century. We have about 50 K-5 and K-8 schools. This is far too many schools to operate with very little money. There are approximately 23 of these schools that are over 80 years old. It seems to me if we sold these buildings and made a profit on the land we could save a great deal of money and make money in the near future. We could save on transportation, food and operations costs that cause us to spend on out-of-date boiler and heater systems. We could gain revenue and build state-of-the-art K-12 schools in our various school zones.
This would give us an estimated saving of close to a half-billion dollars over the next ten years.
Apparently he missed the memo about the real estate crash. We have a closed school five blocks from our house. It's been sitting, empty, for years now. No one wants it. Closed schools tend to be large, solidly built (so, expensive to tear down), in poor repair (so, also expensive to fix up), in the heart of residential neighborhoods (so it's not like anyone wants to redevelop it into retail) and difficult to repurpose. The closed schools are costing the district hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, every year just sitting there. I am not saying that we shouldn't close more schools; if things keep going the way they're going, we're going to HAVE to close more schools. But the idea that we can solve our budget problems by selling the buildings? Ha.
Doug is a Green and sort of a well-known city gadfly. He has a reputation for being abrasive. He is categorically opposed to ability grouping, which is a dealbreaker for me. If you read here regularly, you can probably guess why.
R.E. (Dick) Velner
Sounds downright unhinged in the questionnaire here (and he goes on and on and on about the Russian School of Mathematics but never explains what it is. I looked it up and apparently it's an after-school math program but it's still completely unclear what he thinks this has to do with the Minneapolis School Board.)
Don't forget to vote!