Curing the dysfunction of the Minneapolis school board

Writing today in the op-ed section of the Star Tribune, education blogger and public school parent Lynnell Mickelsen asks a hot-potato question about whether the best way to oversee our public schools is the way we’re overseeing them now.

In the wake of the disastrous selection of a Minneapolis school superintendent candidate whose background was researched largely by a consultant, Mickelsen (background here) says it’s unfair to vilify the school board as particularly incompetent “because the Minneapolis school board has been a mostly dysfunctional form of governance for decades.”


She asks whether the best way to run the education of our students is with part-time members who are political activists, and criticizes the expansion of the school board membership under the cover of expanding diversity.

In order to get elected to the Minneapolis board, you usually need to get the DFL Party’s endorsement, a truly tortuous process dominated by longtime party hacks.

I write this as a DFLer/hack who regularly goes to the notorious, all-day DFL school board endorsing conventions. The teachers’ union dominates the process. Their goal is to protect their contracts; potential candidates are carefully screened to make sure they toe the party line.

Nothing in this endorsement process attracts or rewards smart, experienced, gutsy or creative leaders. In fact, it’s pretty much hard-wired to produce the opposite. Yes, it’s possible to run outside of DFL endorsement. But it’s expensive. Plus, the party and the union tend to ferociously attack anyone who tries to go around them.

In short, the way we govern the Minneapolis Public Schools basically guarantees its continual dysfunction. As the board gets weaker and the education wars get more toxic, it’s probably going to get worse.

She suggests fixing the dysfunction by decreasing the number of people who serve on the board and carving the city into fewer districts.