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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Historic victory for Minneapolis school board

Hussein Samatar of Minneapolis is the first Somali immigrant to be elected to public office in Minnesota - and possibly the country.

Hussein Samatar
With his election Tuesday to the Minneapolis school board, Hussein Samatar became the first Somali immigrant elected to public office in Minnesota and possibly the United States.

The founder and CEO of the African Development Center, who came to the United States as a refugee in 1993 and learned English in less than a year, in part by watching soap operas, said the thought of making American history is humbling.

"It has not yet set in," said Samatar, who ran unopposed for the board's District 3 seat. "I just hope that this will be one of many elections to come" for natives of Somalia, he said. "Not for the sake of winning, but to have an impact on the state."

With a historic win of his own, Alberto Monserrate became the first Latino elected to the school board. He defeated John H. Saulsberry for the District 5 seat. The CEO and president of Latino Communications, Monserrate came to Minnesota from Puerto Rico, where his parents worked as teachers.

Samatar and Monserrate have expressed interest in improving education for the district's English language learners. Educating Minnesota's growing immigrant population is key to the state's future, they say.

While the city's immigrants gained new advocates on the board, the city's North Side and black community may lose theirs. Incumbent Theatrice (T) Williams and Chanda Smith Baker, both black North Side residents, trailed in the race to fill two district-wide seats. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Richard Mammen and Rebecca Gagnon led, with Smith Baker trailing Gagnon by less than a percentage point.

If the results hold, it would mark the first time in decades that an American-born black has not served on the board. Samatar considers himself an African-American but sees a difference between his experience and that of blacks born in the United States, he said.

Smith Baker plans to request a recount of the official results.
"There's a lot of hard work that's been put in," she said.

In the board's District 1 race, Jenny Arneson handily beat Mike Endrizzi.
With the switch to district representation, the school board will grow to eight members when the winners take office in January.

Metro tax levies

Meanwhile, voters in 79 of Minnesota's 338 school districts were to decide on new tax levies or the continuation of existing ones. Eleven were in the Twin Cities metro. With vote totals incomplete, results Tuesday night were mixed.

In Brooklyn Center, voters continued a trend, defeating a referendum request for the seventh consecutive time since 2005. Still, with an existing levy expiring in 2012, the district will likely go back to voters yet again next year, Superintendent Keith Lester said.

Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan also lost a referendum request. In the district, where officials are assuming a 7 percent state funding cut in preparing their budget, the loss could result in a $23 million funding shortfall for next year.

"This is a hard time for people to go ahead and raise their taxes and we understand that," said Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan board chairwoman Jackie Magnuson. "We're a little disappointed, but we will move on and move forward."

But voters tend to look more favorably on renewal levies, because they often don't involve additional tax dollars. Mounds View was doing just that, asking voters to continue a levy set to expire in 2011, and which provides the district with $6 million a year in revenues. The district is asking voters to push the levy out another eight years. Incomplete returns showed Mounds View apparently cruising to an easy referendum win.
In the Hopkins School District, history was on the side of school officials. As they have done for the past 20-plus years, voters in the west-metro school district supported two tax questions, a levy increase and one-time bond.

"We're really pleased," Superintendent John Schultz said. "It gives us more stability in our fiscal picture."
The levy will funnel $6.5 million a year into the district for the next 10 years for curriculum, classroom materials and technology upgrades. Students could see some upgrades next fall, district leaders said. A one-time $3 million bond that passed will fund safety projects such as video monitoring equipment and security at entrances. Installation will begin this summer.

The Forest Lake School District wasn't so lucky. Officials faced what looked to be defeat of a levy increase to give the district $10 million a year and a $24 million bond to improve energy efficiency, safety and classroom upgrades.

The loss at the polls and a projected deficit of $4 million next year means cuts will have to be made.
"We have a lot of hard work ahead of us in the next year," spokesman Ross Bennett said.

Staff writers Kelly Smith and Norman Draper contributed to this report. Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491
Source: Star Tribune


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