We're All Bozos on This Board

After watching the last two superintendents it tabbed go up in smoke, what will the Minneapolis School Board do for an encore?

Erickson can get away with such empty, canting phrases in part because the DFL Party's stranglehold on Minneapolis School Board elections provides its endorsed candidates with a virtual sinecure. Two years ago, Lydia Lee and Peggy Flanagan were total political neophytes with little name recognition outside their own extended families. But after earning the DFL nomination, each woman swamped the field as the leading vote-getters in both the 2004 primary and general election.

Although Erickson and other DFL partisans heatedly deny it, one effect of this single-party control is to buttress the political and fiscal standing of the predominantly white "enclave" schools in the well-to-do DFL strongholds of southwest Minneapolis. While the aftershocks from the Peebles debacle were garnering most of the attention last week, the school board unanimously approved a new teacher contract that will continue to award senior teachers preferential placements, a dynamic that inevitably winds up stocking the poorest and most troubled schools with the most inexperienced teachers.

To the extent that they turn out at the polls in pathetically low numbers, the city's African American residents are willing pawns in this disenfranchisement. In the words of former school board member Louis King, who is black, "This isn't just about Superintendent Peebles. Look at the board's performance around school closings." (Last year when falling enrollment necessitated the closure of several schools, the board saved all of the threatened schools in the upper-class southwest, instead closing a number of predominantly minority schools on the North Side and in South Central.)

"We can change superintendents all we want," adds King, "but we need to make some changes on the board. I'm done running for office myself, but I'm seeking out candidates. If you want us to help raise money, we can do that. If you want help on the issues, we can do that. We can't be intimidated by the DFL machine. The DFL has to make room within the party, for the sake of the community. But that won't happen unless we force the issue. One way or another, we have to start carrying our own water." 

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