Battle for school board seat about more than money
Now that elections are over the winners are preparing to take power and change the world, the losers nationally and locally are moaning without grace or humility. In Minneapolis there was only one horse race, the one for a school board seat between wunderkind Josh Reminitz and part-time waitress Patty Wycoff. Their battle wasn't merely a wrestling match for a low level, low pay, lowly regarded seat that most people with healthy self-esteem should avoid. It became a show down of school reform issues; achievement vs. poverty, teachers vs. children, and seniority vs. common damn sense. Luckily, voters chose Reimnitz, a twenty-something non-profit leader who works with idealistic young people determined to make a difference. He's a bright, cheery guy with an upward disposition and broad smile that make him suspect for being one of the lost members of the Osmund family. Oh, and he also taught for two years in Atlanta through Teach for America.
Wycoff is another story. She’s the “community activist” who led an effort to extort special zoning privileges from the school district with the threat that 160 white families would flee if not granted access to more high schools than anyone else in Minneapolis. Thankfully she lost her bid to represent the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers on the Minneapolis School Board. The MPS board already has four members sworn to be MFT proxies; we hardly need more.
Given the unenviable status of school boards you might imagine that this race would end quietly. 80% of Minneapolitans don't have kids in the schools so you couldn't blame them for not seeing the school board election in the way that Brazil sees Futbol.
But insiders in two camps were watching closely, and investing time, energy, and money as if this were a pivotal contest.
Follow The Money
Before the curtain closed on the Reimnitz/Wycoff match up the narrative from Wycoff's side began explaining her defeat. Even though she had the all important backing of the MFT, a former Speaker of the Minnesota House, a sitting congressman, and a sitting school board member, her team painted her as the underdog because Reimnitz raised far more money. In fact, his $37,000 haul set fundraising records, while her meager $5,000 kitty is in line with purses many union approved candidates typically have to win. Clearly the money looks lopsided and those desperate to explain the waning influence of MFT endorsements need a story to tell.
In the unionist apologist camp nobody is clutching their pearls more than Julie Landsman, former MPS teacher and author of "A White Teacher Talks About Race." In a huffy Daily Planet blog post she questions Reimnitz supporters about their status as "liberals" and says "It astounds me that Reimnitz’s money and outside corporate connections poses no problem for those who profess to care about the democratic process. Is it because the most important thing we should be doing now is dismantling teacher unions?" Landsmen takes several dismissive swipes at Teach For America teachers, and then says "I wonder how Josh Reimnitz can move into a district weeks before filing and find $37,000 dollars in his pocket for a school board election."
It's telling that a veteran teacher observing this race says nothing about pedagogy, classroom practice, school administration, proper board governance, or how children learn. The focus is on money. Always. Indeed, Landsman's article is not titled “follow the learning,” or “follow the teaching,” or “follow the achievement.”
It's not follow the inequity – which there is plenty of that in Wycoff’s history as an “activist.”
It's follow the money.
Pretty crass, but let's comply with the assignment. Let's follow the money, starting with the $650 million taxpayers cough up for a district of 33,000 students. Focus now: $250 million or more of that is allocated for teachers who are represented by a private, unelected organization that takes a cut off the top. Then, that organization – the MFT - invests in elected officials they believe will help them keep their cash cow without ever uttering the word "accountability."
The deep flaw in Landsmen’s money argument is that the $37,000 campaign Reimnitz achieved is notable - sure, but it is dwarfed by the $250 million outlay for over 3,000 teachers that act as foot soldiers, phone bankers, and direct mail vendors for unionist candidates. $37k can't buy that kind of fanatical greed on the ground.
Follow the REAL money
But, let's talk about the real money. According to McKinsey & Co. (people who know almost as much about money as teachers' unions) if the United States had equalized achievement in 2008 between this country and top performers like Finland and South Korea, it would add about $1.3 to 2.3 trillion to the GDP. Equalizing achievement between black, brown, and white students would add $310 to $525 billion. If we equalized achievement between low income children and all others it would add between $400 and $675 billion.
But, even as we are following the money, we are not equalizing achievement, especially in Minneapolis Public Schools. White MPS students make the news for outperforming the state as a whole and kids of color make the news for barely making it out of the system with their melanin intact. Less than 40% of black MPS students graduate on time, a fact that a Minneapolis Foundation report says puts them "at greater risk for job instability, lower lifetime earnings, poorer health, unemployment and welfare, and prison." For the record, Minnesota spends $11.4 billion on health and human services (which includes welfare), and $393 million on prisons – much of which goes to unionized careerists maintaining chattel in these latter day misery industries.
Sadly, when we really follow the money we see that unlearned children of color are profitable almost from day one. Funny how a white teacher that talks about race fails to mention that.
It's not about money
In truth the Reimnitz/Wycoff race was not about money, it was about two points of view.
Reimnitz testified with personal experience that all kids can learn; that there are good and bad teachers in Teach For America and in traditional classrooms; that good school leaders make a difference and bad ones create problems for teachers; and that unequal education is a moral issue and a civil rights failure.
Wycoff offered pale platitudes about "blaming teachers," supporting "seniority," and the need for district brass to listen to parents like her.
Reimnitz is positive and optimistic. Wycoff whined about endorsements she didn't get, being labeled an MFT mole, and being "misunderstood."
Reimnitz campaigned on the need to do what is right for kids. Wycoff campaigned on, herself.
Neither of these candidates are perfect, and it matters very little who funded them. What matters most is which side of the belief gap you live on. Do you believe all kids can achieve at high levels if schools do their business right, or do you believe schools are powerless to overcome the oft stated generalized effects of poverty?
What do these candidates believe about our children, especially those that are on trajectory for economic exile rather than the American mainstream?
The Teacher For America members I've met believe my children can learn and that great teaching can make the difference. The MFT, Landsmen, Wycoff, and their fringe-left conspiracy theorists have few answers for my community other than "more funding" and lower expectations for children that dare to be poor. That song and dance has paid their mortgages since Nixon, and all the while we have paid the price.
I encourage you to ask the White Teacher That Talks About Race why the MFT refused to endorse Tracine Asbury, a 10 year member of their union, an educator that taught on the Northside; and a woman possessing gifts that Ray Charles can see - and a doctorate on top. They skipped over her for a 27 year old corporate attorney with no children, no connection to schools, and no Earthly idea what urban education challenges look like on the ground. Even after Asbury was the last woman standing (once several candidates discovered campaigning is actual work) the MFT still attempted to block her endorsement from the DFL.
The White Teacher That Talks About Race might want to inquire into why several of the MFT endorsements over the last two election cycles have been of businessmen, or individuals with no education experience. These endorsements were made against members of ethnic communities with direct, hands on experience in urban schools.
Once a White Teacher That Talks About Race investigates the inequitable turd blossom that is MFT’s recent electoral behavior, we’ll ask that she stop following the money, and start following the integrity of a candidate’s record on equity.
On that issue Reimnitz outperforms and the other camp is clearly in need of a loan.