The MSBA Area meeting

Last night one of the regional meetings for the statewide Minnesota School Board Association met at Cloquet’s Municipal Building. I attended these gatherings every year in my first stint on the Duluth School Board. Back then I was the only board member to attend. The Fall meetings precede the MSBA’s Legislative Assembly gathering in December. Art Johnston and I both put our names in to become delegates as did retiring Board Chair Judy Seliga-Punyko. Five other board members from around Northeast Minnesota did the same and every School Board member from northeastern Minnesota can vote for their choices to the Assembly. Four delegates will be selected. The candidates who don’t get elected all stand a good chance to be seated at the actual Assembly if those who are elected decide not to attend.

This year’s Assembly won’t have much to look forward to in terms of legislation because the next session of the legislature is devoted to passing bonding bills. Cities and Counties will scramble for state money to fix parks, municipal buildings and compete with state government interests. Legislators will take credit for getting state money for their localities and no one will much care about the statutes of the Land of ten thousand laws.

Art and I however, want to push a law that was introduced into last year’s legislature by DFL Senator Terri Bonoff. It would take away the right of School Boards to remove a school board member that they didn’t like thus negating the elections that put them into office. The law got many sponsors and Art and I lobbied for it in a couple visits to St. Paul. It would, of course, make a fiasco like the one we’ve just experienced in Duluth impossible. It would require a real crime to remove an office holder something like embezzlement or child abuse and not simply asking too many embarrassing questions or expressing frustration when denied public data.

Art Johnston had already spent the day at the Minnesota State Department of Education as the guest of board candidate Alanna Oswald. She is beginning her second year on the State’s Title One Committee that oversees the expenditure of tens of million of Federal Dollars that support the poorest children in Minnesota’s Schools.

Rep. Mary Murphy was at our evening meeting. She is currently the longest serving Representative on the Education Finance Committee having been in St. Paul for something like 34 years. As a Democrat she is in the minority but she is treated more generously by the Republicans than almost any other Democrat in the legislature. She gave us a summary of her long climb to the top and lamented her lowly status in her first years. Those were the years that I often substituted in her classes at Central High School.

I have always taken the MSBA seriously and look forward to the educational sessions at their statewide conference in January. I have written about the last two I attended on the blog.

There is one aspect of the MSBA that does put me off a bit. The staff runs it rather like the Disney Park Ride “Its a Small Small World.” The MSBA staff manages school board members a little like kids in a rope line. Last night we were treated to a game to help loosen us up in which a staffer would give us a term like “Special Session” and we were supposed to respond with the first word that came to our heads. As I sat next to Alanna I drew a picture of a happy face and scrawled “silly time” underneath it.

Some of the folks at the meeting had driven a lot farther than me and this wasn’t my idea of a very useful activity.

Ironically, the effort to protect gadfly school board members had one unexpected result. While our proposal stalled it motivated Representative Seiben to introduce legislation that took away the right of school boards to appoint replacements for vacancies on their boards due to death, retirement or moving out of town.

I don’t mind the legislation but the MSBA staff has its undies in a bunch and is trying to undo it. Maybe they think its too controversial since, instead of school board’s simply selecting a friendly fac, it opens the decision to voters and heavens know what kind of mischief.

When I served on the Board earlier we filled empty seats twice and left one seat vacant until the next election. I was in the majority for all three decisions so I helped choose folks that were congenial to me. Had I been in the minority I might have gotten new colleagues that would have been less satisfactory. In fact, one of my current colleagues, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, was one of the candidates asking to fill such a vacancy as did Bill Punyko, Judy Seliga-Punyko’s husband.

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