Biography

(This biography was from an email sent to Kevin Driscoll from the Villager during September of 2015). ~~ Publius Jr.


#1. Experience Advocating for Poor People

East Side of St Paul Homeowner

I am a sixty year old widower with one adult stepson who is a carpenter living independently. I am a homeowner living just off Payne Avenue for 23 years in a neighborhood that fully reflects both the ethnic and economic diversity of  the Saint Paul Public Schools, whose student majority reflects my neighborhood; low income and people of color, with children attending traditional East Side public schools or one of numerous publicly funded charter schools.

Experienced Public Servant

My first job after college was as a newspaper reporter covering public schools where I won an award for my coverage of teacher contract negotiations from the Florida Teaching Profession-National Education Association. While deputy director of a multi-county Community Action Agency I developed a Young Adult Conservation Corps job training program in carpentry and masonry for unemployed youth 16 to 22 years old which also required high school dropouts to complete their GED.  I assisted in administering Head Start, Meals-on-Wheels and congregate dining programs for the elderly. I wrote federal and state grants to provide unemployed adults job training, the elderly and disabled with transportation to doctors and shopping, low income energy assistance, home weatherization, and a community food pantry.

I served as a contract compliance officer for community college based job training programs and as a recruiter for a private industry-public partnership on-the-job training program.

Primary Caregiver

I was the primary caregiver for my wife Betty, for 16 years following her disabling on-the-job crash in which she sustained a traumatic brain injury and numerous other physical injuries. Betty, a Professional Dietitian who provided staff training and public health inspection services to institutions and private businesses before being rear-ended by a careless driver,  founded Minnesota Hugs, a nonprofit to aid American communities hit by natural disasters

Maplewood City Manager

I served as City Manager of Maplewood, then Minnesota’s 18th largest city with a population of 36,000, over two budget cycles; in the first year my recommendation to freeze tax rates was approved by city council as was my recommendation to reduce tax rates the second year. During this time I reorganized city departments eliminating administrative positions and internally promoting a record number of long time city personnel to more responsible positions. I used the budget reductions and new grants to increase police on the beat by 10%, hire more full time EMS  personnel and expanded the city’s citizen staffed pay-per-call firefighters and EMS ranks; all without one dime of Local Government Aid (LGA).  I also hired Maplewood’s first full time code enforcement officer. While there were objections to these administrative reductions from some remaining department heads who formed their own union;  six other city union bargaining units got 3% raises and the police got slightly more.

I ramped up the city’s residential street paving program doing two years of work in one year. Won a $1.2 million Met Council redevelopment grant to assist in building new streets and utilities to help transform a dilapidated mobile home park into a taxpaying multi-million senior residence. Worked to protect the sensitive habitat of the Fish Creek Nature Reserve in the Mississippi River Corridor and to place city parks in a public trust to keep them from being sold in the future for development. Funded a plan to clear of a backlog of years of neglected building maintenance.  While I was City Manager, Maplewood was open for business; the city welcomed Costco’s new store, a renovation plan for the Maplewood Mall, a new 3M corporate training facility was built, and Menards and St. John’s Hospital expansions went forward.

Volunteer Service

My record of volunteer service includes my appointment by then Gov. Bob Graham, later  U.S. Senator from Florida, a Democrat;  to the Board of Trustees of  the Pasco-Hernando Community College for four years. I am a former Chairman of the Saint Paul Charter Commission and member for 12 years. I was on the Saint Paul CIB, Capital Improvement Bond for six years and served part that time as Vice Chairman.  I have been active with the Payne-Phalen District Council elected president twice and to multiple terms to the Board of Directors, I am now only on the Community Planning Economic Development Committee.

 #2.  Yes WE the Voters Can Fire Silva !  Enough Is Enough! 

Candidate for St Paul Public School Board  

My goal in this election is to build a  Citizens Coalition to elect a new governing majority on the Saint Paul School Board that will have as its first mission the hiring of a new Superintendent of Schools. Voters must reject the one-party model that has controlled School Board and their decision to hand Superintendent Silva a Sweetheart Contract. Silva’s new three-year contract extends to December 2018 well past the terms of office of all the school board  members that voted for it on March 17, 2015. Even the terms of the two board  members, Chue Vue and Jean O’Connell who are not up for election this November have terms that will end in 2017; a full year before the final year of Silva’s 2018 contract

There is no accountability in an election for School Board when Superintendent of Schools Silva gets a free pass from her friends in the party in power because they know the jig could well be up.  The good news is there is one member of the Board, John Brodrick who voted against Silva’s new contract.   There are at least two candidates running for the Board, myself and Aaron Benner [says he won’t serve even if elected] who have publicly pledged to terminate this ill-conceived political protection plan for Silva; which Silva herself all but threw under the school bus days after it was passed by Board, when she decided to apply for Superintendent of Palm Beach, Florida Public Schools. In an odd twist it took Mayor Coleman to publicly persuade her to withdraw her application.

Any School Board, including Saint Paul’s has but one primary mission: hire the best Superintendent the district can afford. On March 17, 2015 the current DFL controlled Board robbed the voters of Saint Paul of their right to elect four new School Board members to make that decision in 2016. Silva’s then-current contract was set to expire in December 2015, just days before the new School Board would be seated. They did wait for the question of Silva’s retention to come up for public discussion.  The current Board exercised what it thinks is a veto over you and all the other voters as well as the new Board for the sole purpose of protecting Silva at the expense of the children’s future

I urge voters to use their ballots on November 3, 2015 to end this high stakes politics of one-party control over our Saint Paul Public Schools by adding real diversity of  views to the Board to ensure a new leader is selected to move our schools out of the basement that Superintendent Silva’s record exemplifies.

Here are the facts from the Minnesota Department of Education, MNDOE, website showing the absolute decline of Saint Paul students On-Track for Success.

In 2010 54.5% of students were On-Track For success in Math by 2014 it was only 41.6%; that is a 12.9 point slide in just four years. In reading 53.3% of Saint Paul students were On-Track  for Success in 2010, in  2014 Saint Paul was well off track, falling by 11.8 points in 2014 to 41.5%.

Take a look at the 2015 MCA’s. Proficiency in reading is in the cellar as the “GAP” between white students and backs is now 33% points wide, 31% for Hispanics 29% for American Indians and 13% with Asian students In Math the “GAP” between white students and Blacks was 37%, Hispanics at 31%, American Indians were 33% and Asian students had a “GAP” of 9%.

Silva’s Strong Schools, Strong Communities Plan has especially failed our children of color. In 2014 the MNDOE says 175 or 8.65% students dropped out of Saint Paul Public Schools: 50 were Black, 63 were Asian, 35 were Hispanic, 5 were American Indians and 22 were white,  and 165 of students who dropped out were economically disadvantaged. If Saint Paul Schools had just met the statewide graduation rate of 81.2% in 2014, 151 more Saint Paul students would have received their diplomas; sadly that did not happen, only 75.6% students graduated in Saint Paul. In 2014, 412 or more than 15% of  class were not graduating, but were said to  “continue”

These results are unacceptable. These results are the strongest argument for terminating Silva’s contract without further delay. We need to change this educational leadership crisis at the polls; our children, our city and state, America can’t tolerate this rate of  educational dysfunction in the 21st Century. It is economic folly to pretend otherwise, and a cruel hoax on those children left  out of any opportunity for a good job or further education. We must elect a wholly new School Board majority that will take the courageous actions needed to hire a new Superintendent for Saint Paul and buy out the Sweet Heart Contract so wrongly and cowardly awarded last March.

#3.1 Replace City Wide Elections with Ward Based  School Board Elections & Reform School Board Public Meeting Procedures

Making SPPS Board Members Accountable to Wards

Reform the School  Board election process. In recent years the City Wide  School Board election process has left the East Side and the West Side without adequate representation. Those who have been elected are disproportionately from economically more well to do zip codes, in  Wards 3, 4 and 5.  One East Side board member is not enough and there is no board member from the West Side. Unfortunately this pattern was again enshrined with the DFL endorsed candidates; none is an East Sider or a West Sider, the poorest and most diverse parts of the city have no vote and no voice on the Board from their neighborhood.

I propose a simple remedy, let’s  elect our school board members from each of the city’s seven City Council wards.  This will ensure a fair geographic distribution of School Board members from all parts of the city and it will reduce the advantage and/or need for big money in the school board campaigns by reducing the voter population of each district or ward to only one-seventh of the city, rather than candidates  having to make their case to every voter.

The Need for other SPPS Board Reforms…

Other Board process reforms I would initiate are complete televising of all Board meetings from begin to end. Elimination of the “Committee of the Boardmeetings now held out largely out of public view . Committee work or workshop meetings should take place in public and be televised.  A meeting of the School Board is a public meeting under MN Law no matter what the Board  chooses to call it.

Public comment/testimony should be given and heard by the Board in a meaningful manner with respect.  Comments on  agenda items pending before the Board  should be made during action on that item.

The Board should give consideration to holding meetings around the city when a subject of special concern arises in order better accommodate the public and encourage people to directly participate. Listening to the people takes time, good representative government is built around a deliberative process,  we should embrace that process, even if it takes more time and may be uncomfortable for some elected officials use to the old ways

3.2 A Modest Proposal to Decentralize Schools, Invest in Guidance Counselors to Give All Students an Individualized Education Plan  & Spend the Money in the Classroom

Students need Individualized Plans for Success

Academic challenges abound in any school system, but given Saint Paul’s last five years the Silva top down, centralized model of insisting teachers teacher the same thing in every classroom on the same day has dramatically  failed. Where is the respect for teachers professional creativity? Where is the flexibility teachers need in a classroom where the ability of individual students varies so widely?

Education is like many things in life, having an Individual plan works better for each of  us because we don’t all share the same approach to life’s challenges given the variation of resources, skill sets, sex, age, ethnic heritage, life experience and many other variables.   Our choices are ours to make and all Parents, well to do or poor, should have the full range of Saint Paul’s educational opportunities available for their children.  I would propose to decentralize and eliminate of the Silva attendance zones and offer full  school access using practical public transportation options, i.e. school bus or van, or public transit to take the burden off parents working shift work or multiple part-time jobs or having responsibilities to care for non-school age youths or sick relatives.

having an Individual plan works better for each of  us because we don’t all share the same approach to life’s challenges

Merging of all children by grade regardless of their unique educational needs makes no sense and degrades the academic performance of students, adding to class sizes and makes for unnecessary complication of classroom discipline and teacher planning and effectiveness.   I support an education model tied to the unique needs of every child, whether they are an English language learner, a special education student, gifted in a vocational education class, or in Miss Jones Physics class.

We need every student to have an Individual Education Plan created in a hands-on consultation with the parents, teaching staff and guidance counselors to ensure that the academic goals for each child are met and any GAPS are addressed with tutoring and other interventions before the MCA and other tests are taken by students. Evaluation, monitoring and updating the Individual Education Plan to ensure proficiency at grade level is a continuous process comparable to a doctor assessing and treating their patients of any age according to their unique individual needs

The American School Counselor Association calls for a ratio of one guidance counselor to 250 students; Saint Paul is at approximately 435 to one counselor. I would propose to add to the present 85 counselors in the system over time as funds became available from system wide spending reductions in administrative costs, grants are obtained, new funding from legislation and of course elimination of failed, costly Silva era programs such as those operated by the Pacific Education Group.  Additionally, the $9 million annual technology levy funds should be re-evaluated to be used to support active use of  the Individual Education Plan process. No new funds or property tax levies will be required.

Saint Paul needs a  Citizen School Board that is committed to putting money into the classroom as its first priority. I embrace the leadership displayed by the interim Minneapolis Superintendent’s decision to eliminate 120 administrative jobs to fund his reform strategy

Allocating a Higher Percentage of the Budget into the Classroom

The 2016 budget repeats the same pattern of spending as Silva has adopted for years, spending too little on students in the classroom.  Only 48.22%  the $525.3 General Fund or just $253.3 million is being Directly Allocated to Schools.  I support a policy that allocates the Maximum dollars possible to the classroom for student instruction. In the future teachers and classroom aides will not be the first cuts made as has been the case under the current Board.  Budget reductions must be made starting with Central Administration. On top of my list is a  full examination of the $176 million School Support Services budget and District-wide Support Services budget of $92.1.  Together these two parts of the budget account for over 51% of the General Fund.  The next Board in order to fund new priorities for raising student academic achievement and promoting safety in all classrooms will have to go through these funds with a fine tooth comb to spend more dollars on direct student guidance and instruction

#3.3 Spend  Title I  & MN Compensatory Funds On the Economically Disadvantaged Students Who Earned Them & Accept Help from Commissioner Cassellius

Poor Children should get the Title I money

Both Congress and the MN Legislature  sent approximately  $93 million dollars to Saint Paul Public Schools due to the poverty that grips the lives of 73% of the 37,859 children enrolled in our Capitol City’s public schools where 27,716 got free and reduced lunches. I want to be sure that the $70,297,543 in MN Compensatory dollars allocated to Saint Paul and earned by our poor children in the state education formula is spent directly on them.  These are the students that need the extra attention and clearly the money is available, but how is it specifically being spent?

Parents of poor children I talk to are constantly being told by school administrators we don’t have the money to meet their children’s needs. I tell them not buy that old line; there is a $697.8 million budget.

Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota’s Commissioner of  Education  said on Sept. 1 that Minnesota will not meet our state goals to close the achievement gap unless “we see significant improvement in Minneapolis and Saint Paul student performance.” Commissioner Cassellius was referring to the fact that 38 St. Paul and 36 Minneapolis Schools scored in the bottom 25% of the 2015 Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR) and not one Saint Paul School was among the “reward” schools whose economically disadvantaged children finished in the top 15% of schools with a model of improved achievement that can shared with others schools. The Good News is there were six St. Paul Schools that are in the next 25% best MMR scores and are now eligible to apply for “Celebration” schools status.

The most disturbing news however was that Saint Paul was not participating in and had no intention of sending their staff to the MN Department of Education Regional Centers of Excellence that provide staff training that has resulted in a significant lift in student performance at many schools outside the two core cities.  A Saint Paul Public Schools official told local media “we” did not have to “go outside the district” because they were relying on their own staff; really!   This kind of unapologetic arrogance is the problem with the Silva administration. They will never admit what legislators and educators else where in Minnesota already know; Saint Paul, with some notable exceptions is operating as a failed system for many poor children and students of color. I refuse to accept that it has to be this way, there is nothing a new strategy a good game plan could not fix.

I for one pledge to work with the Minnesota Department of Education to get all the help our children need. I am not waiting for the election results to do so either, I was recently appointed to the MN Department of Education’s  Committee of Practioners, COP, that works on improving the Federal Title I Programs that sent $23 million to Saint Paul Schools this year to assist our poorest children. I hope we can obtain some additional resources to work  for Saint Paul Students

GREG COPELAND
ALL  MINDS  MATTER!
Saint Paul School Board Candidate

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