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Updated: Pawlenty Wants Mayoral Control of Twin Cities Schools

Originally published 2-12-10.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday he believes the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul should have control of the school districts in their respective cities.

The two-term governor used his last State of the State address to make this pitch.

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

The governor's statement caught even the two mayors by surprise, and neither of them seem to be rushing for the chance to run the urban school districts, according to this story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper.

Pawlenty, who is widely expected to run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has made education a focus of his tenure as governor, working to bring the Q-Comp performance pay plan to the state. He's directed the state's education department to use its current authority to create an "office of turnaround schools." It's unclear what powers such an office would have and how that would have an impact on the two districts.

His remarks on governance come at an interesting time for the two school districts, both of which have hired new superintendents in the last two months. Valeria Silva took the helm of the St. Paul schools in December, and Bernadeia Johnson was promoted to the top job in Minneapolis by school board members this week, as I told you yesterday. She starts her superintendency in July.

Mary Cathryn Ricker, the president of the St. Paul Teachers Union took to her Twitter page to denounce the governor's proposal, saying "Discuss school leadership as a sincere effort to better meet the needs of our students and improve our profession, not as a casual suggestion."

I've asked the school board presidents in both districts for their thoughts on Pawlenty's proposal, and will post them here if they respond.

UPDATE: A rockstar of a colleague in the Twin Cities sent me the statement of Elona Street-Stewart, chair of St. Paul's school board.

Street-Stewart takes the governor to task, saying his proposal suggests the achievement gap only exists in the Twin Cities.

"I see that with the Governor's latest proposal, he continues to create distractions in Minnesota's city centers and pit local governments against each another, rather than address, the statewide achievement gap.," she wrote in part. "Bold ideas require specific planning and support to implement effectively. Until we hear more details, Saint Paul Public Schools will continue to focus on ensuring our students are learning and our staff have the support they need."

UPDATE 2: (2/16)
Tom Madden, chairman of Minneapolis' school board, was kind to e-mail me his thoughts over the weekend. He, too, is not in favor of Pawlenty's proposal, as you might imagine.

Here's his comments, in part:

"I am interested in discussing further any real options that will help all kids achieve. That said, unfortunately, this is more of a political distraction from a governor facing yet another state deficit. The previous state deficits have been balanced at the expense of the public schools in Minnesota causing us to borrow money to cover our bills. Once the Governor pays back the districts what he borrowed both last year and this year, I would be interested in hearing why he thinks this would be the silver bullet."

Madden said while the Minneapolis district has studied some of the academic progress made in school districts under mayoral control, such as those in Boston and Chicago, but the changes being made in those systems and other places happen for many reasons—not because of a governance change.

We'll keep you posted on whether Pawlenty's proposal gets any real traction in the Twin Cities.


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