Educational TV

WITH LESS THAN three weeks to go before the November 7 Minneapolis school board general election, the Star Tribune has done exactly one small story. That gives added power to a weapon not often witnessed in a schools contest: a TV ad. The hard-hitting ad, produced for Republican endorsee Larry Sawyer, attacks the "Farmer-Kaari-Berget" DFL incumbents by name, blaming them for lower test scores. The ad baldly promises the educational equivalent of mom and apple pie--"more neighborhood schools and more choice"--without explaining how those bromides, frequently contradictory, will actually be reconciled.

"I would go back to neighborhood schools, but also have citywide open enrollment," says Sawyer. "You have what quality choice is. Right now, you've got 54 elementary schools, about only four are operating above 65th percentile nationally in vocabulary, so there are only four that you and I would really consider. When I mean choice, I mean I will put portables at those (good) schools until they get too crowded. Currently, all the real choices for quality are to move south or west or north out of the city."

Though the plan has some obvious financial questions--could the district afford to run depopulated "bad" schools, almost all of which would have to remain open, while expanding the "good" ones?--Sawyer says the plan could be financed by cutting back on the 60 cents of every educational dollar that goes to the district's non-classroom expenses. Another bromide? Sawyer advocated a redistributionist plan as a General Mills lobbyist; the company financed an experiment at Minneapolis's Public School Academy in reducing class size by cashing in money spent on specialists. The district abandoned the experiment after a couple of years; Sawyer blames the politics of former superintendent Bob Ferreira, who, according to Sawyer, wanted the experiment to fail.

Back to the ad: Its creator, Dennis O'Leary, is long-time Republican PR adviser to the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation and the media maven behind mayoral hopeful John Derus. Sawyer says O'Leary donated his time, and adds that a second, kinder-and-gentler commercial will appear as election day approaches.

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