Storming 807

Bob Rose's run at empty libraries, boring classes, and the "pampered elite."

Some years ago, Bob Rose asked me to speak to his 12th-grade Roosevelt High School social-studies class. It was during the Gulf War, and the two things I remember are that the room looked like a used bookstore (ratty magazines and second-hand paperbacks piled everywhere) and that the kids had a much better grasp of what was going on in Kuwait than anyone pontificating on TV. A teacher-figure straight from central casting--white-haired, earnest-looking, with a dash of ridicule around the eyes--Rose hovered in the background, jumping in occasionally with what seemed to be random questions: "What do you think?" "What do you mean, you think?" By the time it was over I was exhausted, but the kids stuck around for more.

At the time, Rose was telling me he planned to keep teaching until he didn't enjoy it anymore. Three years later, his doctor told him it might not be his choice to make. I hadn't heard from him in a while when, early this summer, I opened the Star Tribune metro section to find his face. It was gaunter than I remembered, but still as quizzical. He was running for school board.

This was an odd endeavor. Everyone knows that around here, few enough people care about school elections to make sure that the DFL sample ballot always wins. (Granted, a few years ago a woman named Elizabeth Swenson came from nowhere to make a healthy showing; but she had the right gender and name.)

Mike Wohnoutka

But Rose made it through the primary, and there is a chance--albeit small--he'll pull through November 4. After all, the three DFL endorsees are all incumbents, and given the state of the schools that's not a plus. It would take 20,000 votes for him to win, Rose figures, or about one per city block. He's got an active and growing campaign cadre; a flier printed on ancient, but trusty equipment by an International Workers of the World veteran out in Montana (it's a long story). And he's been at all the public forums asking nasty questions, which alone should earn him a medal in this remarkably insipid election season.

CP: How did all this start?

ROSE: A lot of teachers really pressured me to run because they realized the incumbents were sailing along without dealing with the issues. Then it was July 14 and I got a call from a principal. He said, "Bob, it's just awful. Just go and check out this new building they got." Turned out 807 [Broadway, school shorthand for central administration] leased another building, over by the university campus. It's $400,000 a year, which doesn't include furniture or fixtures. The people they are putting in there were scattered throughout the system. But they wanted everybody to be together. Anything to be away from the kids.

So I came home and I really went crazy. I said I've spent 47 years in the public schools, 39 in Minneapolis. I've been to or watched every school-board meeting since 1968. And it's the same damn foolishness. Kids are always shortchanged, and the administration always gets the frosting, and the world is turned upside down. And Donna put her hands on her hips and said, "Either run for school board or shut up." The next day, the last day of filing, I went down and filed, and then I wrote 100 letters to people I trusted and told them what I had done. They all said they'd help.

CP: In your flier you name a couple of "key issues." You've already hit on "Wasteful Bureaucracy." What about "Social Promotion?"

ROSE: That's the one the incumbents are really defensive about. At every community meeting they say, "Research shows this, and research shows that." I don't care what the research says. My wife is still teaching second grade at Kenwood, and of 20 students she had last year, eight should have been retained. But the principal says you can't retain them. So now she sees them in third grade, and every day they're getting more lost than they were last year. By the time you get to 12th grade, some are going to read at the college level and some are not going to read at all. It's like you put kids in an ash heap. They're never going to have a chance.

I think we need a Marshall Plan for the schools. There should be such a thing as kindergarten that opens at 7 in the morning. You've got one teacher who works from 7 to 3 and another who works from 10 to 6, and those children will hear nothing but English--we have so many now who come in with very few words of English--and they'll get some discipline, some good inputs. And if there are parents who don't want their child away for that long, okay, then put them on the school bus [for] kindergarten from 8:30 to 2:30. Give people some choices. But of course there's no money for that. I get furious with our priorities in the system.

CP: What do you think the priorities are?

ROSE: They say it's children, they always say it's children. The rhetoric is impressive. But there is no genuine reform, no concern for the grassroots. Everything emanates from downtown. It's a pampered elite down there--$90,000 salaries and a $250-a-month car allowance. Why would they need a car allowance? They bring retired administrators back for $150 an hour--a friend of mine was told to come back for the easy money.

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