Pawlenty wants mayors to manage St. Paul, Mpls. schools

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday proposed handing control of the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts over to those cities' mayors.

"Persistently low achieving schools need new leadership, new authority, and new teachers hired and assigned based on performance, not seniority," Pawlenty said during his final State of the State speech. "These changes occur most frequently when mayors are in control of a large urban school districts or when alternative school models are used."

Minneapolis and St. Paul, like all school districts in Minnesota, are overseen by locally-elected school boards. Those boards select superintendents, who run the district's day-to-day operations. Both districts are under new leadership, as well.

Valeria Silva was chosen late last year to lead St. Paul schools; Bernadeia Johnson was formally picked this week to take over the Minneapolis district in July.

The governor did not offer specifics on how such a change would happen in the Twin Cities, but the arrangement in other cities has traditionally included giving the mayor the authority to pick a superintendent. The move is considered a way to put accountability for schools in the hands of one person, instead of five or seven school board members, though results have been mixed.

Chicago, Boston, and New York are among the cities with mayoral control. In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle called a special session in December and asked lawmakers to pass legislation instating mayoral control in Milwaukee. That legislation has not passed to date.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a product of a district with mayoral control; he was the CEO of Chicago schools.

Reaction to the governor's proposal, when offered, was neither completely supportive nor dismissive: "It's worth having the discussion," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. "It's a potential piece of the recipe of a successful school system, but it is only one part of an equation.

Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul teachers' union, also said she welcomed the discussion, but said she doesn't "sense any sincerity in the governor's proposal." Ricker instead credited ongoing efforts by Coleman to forge partnerships between the district and city.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a candidate to replace Pawlenty as governor, said he was surprised by the proposal. "I hope I can take it as a sign that the governor wants to become more engaged in the hands-on work of improving our schools," he added, in a statement on his website. "I am very interested in hearing how the governor wants to help the work that is going on in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools."

Like Coleman, Rybak noted his work as mayor already included trying to find ways to work with the school district, even though neither mayor technically has any control over schools.

A spokesman for the Minneapolis district said Thursday afternoon there would be no comment from either superintendent Bill Green or superintendent-designate Johnson.

There was also no comment from St. Paul superintendent Valeria Silva, though school board chair Elona Street-Stewart said in a statement she is glad the governor is addressing the achievement gap, but that she's disappointed "that he believes the achievement gap is limited to only two of this state's more than 300 school districts."

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