Why are our “leaders” stonewalling questions about their $26 million payday?


Last week we saw some political theater at the state capital.

Senator Jeff Hayden faced questions about his alleged involvement in pressuring the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) into signing a $375,000 no-bid contract with the Community Standards Initiative (or CSI for short).

The Senate Ethics Committee, consisting of two Democrats and two Republicans, did not reach a conclusion about Hayden’s potential ethics violations. Instead, they punted the issue to a second hearing set for November 5th.

Between now and then people will be wondering if MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson will finally go on record to confirm the stories that she was bullied by Senators Jeff Hayden and Bobby Champion.

So far she has been evasive about the matter in public. We hope she finds her voice and her courage to tell the truth about what happened. Other women in the black community and beyond will likely applaud if she becomes one of the few to stand up to the old boys club.


While the original CSI contract is bruising the reputations of leaders at all levels, as BAE reported last week, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in identifying ways in which public dollars meant for ‘the many’ are being distributed into the hands of ‘the few.” While following the money trails, BAE leaders discovered that many of the same individuals, who were involved in CSI, are also involved in what we are calling CSI II.

CSI II, the backroom attempt to draw $26 million of state money to a select group of politically connected godfathers aided by Senators Hayden and Champion, is a clear signal that it is time to rethink who leads us, and how they do it.

One key question that we should be asking as concerned taxpayers is: Why hasn’t the $26 million proposal that was submitted to Governor Dayton’s office been made public?

Some of the designers of the proposal are professional protesters with histories of hijacking processes by claiming community members have not been engaged; so why would they create a plan for the black community without vetting it with the black community and obtaining input?

Now that BAE has raised the issue we’ve been contacted by various “leaders” who wonder why we’re making this all public. They want to talk with us privately to see if we can reach some sort of understanding (even after one of them went on black radio to make incoherent charges about our integrity).

That shows they still don’t get it. We’re not interested in business as usual.

The old leadership model involves a small circle of men, many of who live outside of North Minneapolis and most of who act as gatekeepers for power and they bottleneck the flow of resources aimed at improving the lives of people in North Minneapolis. Women and other leaders who actually live and work in North Minneapolis are expected to sit with a subservient posture in the leadership’s second string, if at all.

They are to be seen, not heard.

No more.

We must remember the fact that underlying conditions for our families and children are not improving under this faulty leadership. Our most vulnerable community members continue to suffer under the weight of oppression through virtually nonexistent economic and employment opportunities, inadequate access to quality education, and police abuse within the city of Minneapolis. CSI and CSI Part II are only the latest episodes after several decades of questionable proposals that were hastily constructed and poorly executed once funded.

Given that history, and the great needs of our community, we can only accept leadership that values community voice, accountability, and transparency. We are ready for a change. We are tired of the status quo. We are the leaders that we have been waiting for.

So who is willing to stand with us?

The shady CSI deal was just the tip of the iceberg


Those of us that formed Black Advocates for Education did so because we were tired of lackluster investments in strategies to improve the pitiful academic outcomes for black males in Minneapolis Public Schools. When we learned that the newly formed Office of Black Male Student Achievement was only allocated a budget of $200,000 we were livid. Given the enormous issues with black education in Minneapolis we thought the amount was absurd.

Then news broke about this crazy contract the district had signed with the Community Standards Initiative for over $375,000. Yes, the MPS signed an agreement with a virtually nonexistent organization instead of fully funding a district-wide strategy for systematically undoing the structures that impact student learning for black children.

Little did we know that was just the icing on a much larger cake. Here we were thinking this gross waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars was a big deal, when the deal was much bigger.

As it turns out, some of the same actors in the CSI public school debacle have been working on a much bigger payday. Community members have brought it to our attention that Senators Bobby Champion and Jeff Hayden have been working with “leaders” connected to the CSI to develop a plan that will draw $26 million in state funding. Let’s call it CSI part II, because once again there is a play by folks with questionable capacity, organizational skills, and histories to seek government money on behalf of people in the community, without input from the community.

That’s the game. It’s been happening at least since the 1970’s. North Minneapolis has it’s chiefs, all male and well-fed, most of whom live outside of the city, and all of whom profit from acting as gatekeepers. Meanwhile, as hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the name of improving the lives of real people, conditions haven’t changed.

We’re not OK with that. Our children matter and they deserve better. The many people who get up every morning and actually do good work for families that need help deserve better. Of course we want strong investments in our community. And, we want those investments to have a reasonable chance for making a difference.

It won’t happen as long as we allow yesterday’s leaders to continue negotiating deals about us, without us.

Brave community members sent the letter below  to Gov. Dayton today. It asks for a transparent process to bring resources into the black community.

If you agree, feel free to write him too.

Speaking truth, demanding change

BAE leader Nekima Levy-Pounds spoke the truth to the Minneapolis School Board tonight, calling them out for giving away $357,000 in a no-bid contract on the buddy system and leaving children behind. This district underserves its poorest schools, even thought it spends $21,000 per child on a miseducation.

“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Nekima said.

We all agree.

Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds speaks truth the Minneapolis School Board – Oct. 14, 2014 from D.A. Bullock on Vimeo.

Exposing Jim Crow, Jr. in Minneapolis Public Schools

The data in Minneapolis speaks for itself. Less than half of the black males in Minneapolis graduate on time. Far fewer are proficient or ready for post school life. Some schools in Minneapolis are without a single proficient black student. This human catastrophe is happening in one of the wealthiest, and most college-educated states in the union. Right under the nose of liberal mecca, racialized outcomes for people of color are insufferable.

Enter BAE. We’ve had enough. And our leaders continue to side with the powers that be rather than the power of we. When news broke recently that our leaders on every level were involved in a questionable boondoogle involving a $375,000 no-bid contract granted to a non-existent community partner, we were done.

We are sick and tire. Our children need justice. We must be the tip of the spear.

So, last night we jammed up our “leader’s” twitter handles.

To see how it went down, click here.

Sorry, not sorry

After weeks of waiting for any of the “leaders” involved in mess between Minneapolis Public Schools and the Community Standards initiative, the MPS Board Chair, Dick Mammen, was the first to break his silence.

Yesterday he sent this legalistic and snarky response to BAE’s open letter:

Professor Levy-Pounds et al,

In response to the 10/8/14 “Open Letter Re: CSI Debacle and Calls for an Independent Investigation” authored by the Black Advocates for Education I offer the following on behalf of the Minneapolis Board of Education specific to the statements, questions and demands made.

1) It is the opinion of our District Counsel that Professional Service Agreements, such as the contract with New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church for CSI services, do not require a public bidding process.

2) Professional Service Agreements commonly appear on the “consent agenda” for approval. Board members have the opportunity to move specific items from the consent agenda for discussion and specific action.

3) The New Bethel contract was included on the consent agenda at the 5/13/14 Board of Education meeting. I am confident that all board members were fully aware of the performance-based contract as negotiated and recommended by the superintendent and her leadership team.

4) The board unanimously approved the consent agenda on an 8-0 vote. (Director Ellison was not in attendance due to illness).

5) We do not approve contracts behind closed doors. All communications of staff and board members are discoverable, all committee and board meetings are open to the public and I believe we have abided by all standards of transparency.

6) The board will participate fully in any investigation ordered by an appropriate authority pertaining to this contract or any other matter concerning alleged “breaches of leadership.”

7) Any further allegations, questions or demands should be directed to our District Counsel for response.

This board and staff are aware of, and working diligently to address, the educational disparities for our students of color. We will continue to reach out for community-driven solutions and engagement to achieve more equitable results.

Lastly, on a personal note, I fully concur with your statement: “It’s a crying shame that while adults play political games for self-enrichment and to increase their personal influence, Minneapolis students are suffering and their potential is being stifled.” Let’s move forward.

Best regards,