House panel approves bill establishing mayoral control of Minneapolis-St. Paul schools
Megan Boldt, Pioneer Press, March 8, 2012 –
The mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis could take control of their city’s school districts under a bill approved by the House Education Reform Committee on Thursday night.
Supporters say mayoral control of schools has worked in other large cities across the nation, giving urban districts stable leadership from mayors who usually have longer tenure than superintendents, greater coordination of resources and the ability to overhaul schools more quickly than school boards often slow to move from the status quo.
“It can create a new set of dynamics that will change the status quo and lead to improvements for our students,” said Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership.
But opponents argue that getting rid of elected boards takes away power from the voters and that having politicians with little or no experience in education in charge of a school system is a bad idea. And they point out there is no research that shows there is a correlation between a school district’s government structure and student achievement.
“There is no evidence,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis.
The bill now heads to the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.
In 1992, Boston became the first city to try out mayoral control, which usually means disbanding elected school boards and replacing them with commissions appointed by the mayor. Several big cities like New York, Washington and Chicago have followed their lead and others are considering such a move. St. Paul ended mayoral control in 1946, Minneapolis in 1959.
But proponents argue that the stability of leadership has been tenuous, particularly in Minneapolis, over the past couple of decades. Since 2002, the Minneapolis has had five superintendents. Graduation rates in the two cities also lag behind statewide averages. About 76 percent of students in Minnesota graduate in four years. In St. Paul, 63 percent graduate on time, and in Minneapolis 49 percent.
Research on whether mayoral control affects student achievement is inconclusive. Even supporters agree the research is a mixed bag. But they point out that a November study of large urban districts by the Council of the Great City Schools found Boston made some of the biggest gains on national standardized tests from 2003 to 2009.
“That’s hard to say that’s all due to mayoral governance, but it was definitely in the mix,” Bartholomew said.
But critics argue that bringing forward a controversial proposal that has no credible research on its effectiveness and no backing from leaders in Minneapolis or St. Paul isn’t productive. And it does nothing to truly address the social issues like poverty and lack of affordable housing that cause the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more well-off peers.
And for St. Paul school leaders, they’re concerned shifting to mayoral control would send the wrong message to the community. Superintendent Valeria Silva, who has a warm relationship with Mayor Chris Coleman, said most of the districts that have come under mayoral control nationally have been deeply troubled. And some have been in complete disarray, with dilapidated buildings and finances in shambles.
And that’s not the case in St. Paul, Silva said.
“But that’s the image that shows out there,” she said during a discussion about the issue at Tuesday night’s board meeting. “That’s very difficult to swallow.”
Silva said Coleman spoke with her and Chair Jean O’Connell about being ready to do what it takes if the proposal passes.
Mila Koumpilova contributed to this report. Megan Boldt can be reached at 651-228-5495.