Citing "burn out," dismal pay, and an exhausting "culture of negativity," Minneapolis School Board members Tom Madden and Pam Costain will not seek re-election this fall.
Their announcements come just weeks after fellow board member, Chris Stewart, also said he would step down. That leaves T. Williams as the only incumbent in the race.
Costain said Madden, Stewart, Williams and she were elected in 2006 to help run a district that was 'in crisis.' Thandiwe Peebles had resigned as superintendent earlier that year, after fewer than two tumultuous years on the job.
The board has made a number of moves since 2006, including hiring two superintendents, Bill Green and Bernadeia Johnson; implementing a long-range strategic plan; and approving a wide-ranging plan called "Changing School Options" that includes closing schools to both save money and better align the district's facilities with its declining enrollment.
"The current board made a number of really difficult, long-term decisions that had to be made, and they were unpopular," Costain said, in an interview with MPR News. "We did some very, very heavy lifting in the last three, three and a half years."
Madden admitted he's "burned out" from the job, given the rigorous agenda the board created for itself.
"There is that part of me that would like to stay on to make sure we continue that path," he said. "But I feel very confident with some who are running and most who are on the board to continue that."
Madden and Costain also cited the low pay - less than $15,000 - as a reason to step down. Costain said she treats the position as full-time, meaning she's had to live on a part-time salary for two years. Madden recently moved from being self-employed to a new full-time job that presents logistal challenges.
"You're at the bottom of the river in the political structure," Madden added. "Whenever you have to meet with city council or legislators, it's always during the business day, which makes it difficult for those of us with full-time jobs."
Costain also bemoaned a "culture of negativity" around public education that has become exhausting. Along with politicians who score points by "dumping" on the Minneapolis district, Costain says there's a lot of internal "blame and finger-pointing."
"I really would like that to stop," she added, "because I think those of us who believe in public education, no matter where we sit in the process, really need to come together on behalf of the institution we care about."
Chris Stewart made similar points in his announcement on his Web site earlier this month. "My wife Kristi has been longsuffering about the hours away from home board work requires."
Stewart also admitted his transition to public life "could have been smoother," a reference to an incident last year that led to a principal being placed on temporary leave. Stewart's response: "Frankly, I could have been more edited."
Regardless, Costain, Madden and Stewart still have a number of decisions remaining in their final months on the board. They're expected to finalize a contract soon with its new superintendent, Bernadeia Johnson. Board members will also have to figure out how to balance the district's 2010-2011 budget that is currently $12.5 million in deficit.
Changing School Board
Costain, Madden and Stewart's departures will change the face of the Minneapolis School Board even more than this year's election already was going to. Per a voter-approved referendum passed in 2008, the district is beginning a transition from being run by a seven-person board, elected entirely at-large, to a nine-person board that includes six members elected from districts.
The 2010 and 2012 election cycles will allow for that transition. This year's race will expand the board temporarily to eight members and feature a majority of those seats (five) on the ballot: three district and two at-large.
The 2012 election will expand the board to nine members, with the remaining three district and one at-large seats on the ballot at that time.