Insight News

Feb 10th

A Minneapolis School Board without African American participation? What a travesty!

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Recently, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and several of the Trade Unions released their endorsed candidates for the upcoming November Minneapolis Public School Board election. Only one union to date, Service Employees International Union, has endorsed a single African American for the new school board.

We have been advised that each of the major MPS unions screened several African American candidates for the school board including current School Board member T. Williams and new candidate Chanda Baker. I know for certain those two African Americans screened. Only Chanda Baker received the SEIU endorsement

While I cannot speak for the qualifications of all the African American candidates I find it impossible to understand why only (SEIU) could identify a single qualified African American that they could endorse.

Additionally MFT failed to endorse Hussien Samatar, an exciting Somali leader for one of the School Board district seats, and it did not endorse Alberto Monserate, a highly qualified Latino candidate. We support the endorsements of both Hussien and Alberto as they are well qualified candidates. But for very compelling reasons we should not seat a new school board without substantial representation of African Americans.

Here are the facts that support that claim: These unions endorsing a single African American demonstrates their disregard for the need to have cultural competence from their largest student group at the policy level. More importantly the arrogance demonstrated by MFT is unparalleled, especially when students of color make up over seventy percent of the total student population.

African American students are almost forty percent of all students in Minneapolis public schools. This means that almost forty percent of the more than $550M in revenue to the district is attributed to the presence of African American students. That amounts to approximately $225M from the presence of African Americans in direct revenue to the district. Since African Americans contribute over $400M in state taxes, a lack of representation at the school board is taxation without representation. Shame on MFT and all and the other trade unions, except SEIU, for this disregard for the value of African American participation

But beyond those facts is the record of T. Williams who has been a reasoned and moderate voice on the current school board. He has time and time again demonstrated his ability to provide critical thinking and insightful policy rationale on important issues facing Minneapolis Public Schools. Moreover he has focused his energy and input on improving the education of all students while being a strong advocate for students of low income students of color and particularly African Americans. So why is it that none of the unions’ find him qualified to receive their endorsement. Is T. Williams, as the sole current school board member running for re-election, being used as a scapegoat for these unions who have yet been able to settle on new contracts? For these unions, particularly MFT, to penalize Williams is cynical and self-serving and in fact a choice to penalize African American students and parents in the district. What a travesty.

A review of the record supports the reality that MFT has not been a strong supporter of diversity in the class-room.  Their insistence in maintaining a rigid seniority system has cost the district a loss of almost two thirds of its teachers of color including a large number of African Americans. Most African Americans know the trade unions’ history of not being very concerned over the lack of African American presence in the leadership of their organizations. Only SEIU, the service employees’ bargaining unit, has demonstrated their commitment to diversity and inclusion of African Americans at the leadership level and in their rank and file. Thank them for their foresight and we urge them to reconsider and endorse   T. Williams for his record of being an outstanding board member.

We cannot and will not speak to the qualifications of people we have not observed or know of their commitment to education. I will leave that to the voters. However, I can and must speak of the qualifications and long involvement on many education issues of Chanda Baker.

We have personally worked with and observed her involvement on issues of education over the past ten years. Her passion for transparency and her drive to learn what really works and what does not work qualify her for endorsement and election to an at large seat on the school board. Perhaps it is the legacy of her family history in education that has driven this young African American woman to use her skills and ability to advocate for improving public education. Of course she has been a critic of the failures of the education establishment to meet the needs of all students, but in that criticism she has always been an advocate for strong public schools. She has used her time and energy to become knowledgeable of those evidenced based strategies that work for all children and is well positioned to be an outstanding policy maker on the Minneapolis Public Schools.

It seems ironic that at a time when the achievement gap between African Americans and other students of color, versus the achievement of whites, is growing our union brothers and sisters who purport to be our friends find it impossible to identify and endorse qualified African Americans. The unions past history and lack of sensitivity in these times make it incumbent that our community act before the primary elections.

We call on the City endorsing convention to endorse two African American candidates to the school board as at-large members. Additionally we call on that convention to support and endorse Alberto Monserata and Hussein Samatar as well. Delegates to that convention should endorse our two at large African American candidates or endorse no one and let the voters decide. Moreover we call on elected officials and candidates for public office to support two African Americans for those at-large seats on this school board.

We need to remind our progressive friends that African Americans have been the most loyal DFL voters in the state’s history. Our community demands and deserves your support for the election of two African Americans, both the highly qualified and current board member T. Williams and Chanda Baker to the next school board. To do so would provide and opportunity to keep one of three experienced board members and to bring a new and exciting woman candidate that will create a truly diverse and highly qualified school board.


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