News Cut / Twin Cities schools / BP, Gaza, Afghanistan

I’m a fan of MPR’s “Five by 8” – five stories highlighted by 8 a.m. in the NewsCut blog. They range from the deadly serious (competing video accounts of Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla) to the whimsical (robots creating robots) to the silly (do dogs prefer HDTV?) A little later than 8 a.m., my picks for the stories of the day include Twin Cities school news and lay-offs, Gaza news coverage, attacks on peace talks in Afghanistan, and BP’s ongoing failures as the oil slick nears Florida beaches.

Twin Cities school news is in the not-much-good-to-report column, with large, but not unexpected, cuts in St. Paul leading the news. Last night’s Board of Education meeting confirmed plans to cut 117 non-tenured teachers and a principal position, with cuts of 120 non-teacher personnel and as many as two dozen tenured teachers still ahead. The problem: a $25 million dollar budget shortfall, driven by declining enrollment, declining interest revenue, and increased costs. The staffing cuts come after major reorganization designed to cut costs for buildings and programs.

The Minneapolis school board voted to cut 25 probationary and rely on a freeze on salaries and benefits – though unions have not agreed to salary freezes, and negotiations are continuing long past the end of the contract year. District financial officer Peggy Ingison warned that this is a “risky” strategy.

Minneapolis school board member Pam Costain will step down in late June to take a position as head of AchieveMpls, a foundation supporting Minneapolis schools. She had already announced that she would not run for another term in November’s election.

At the close of registration yesterday, 15 candidates had filed for the five open seats – for candidate statements and information, see TC Daily Planet coverage.

In the aftermath of the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla, Fedwa Wazwaz in the Strib’s Your Voices section raises reasoned arguments about legal issues (attacking a foreign-flagged ship in international waters) and media shortcomings in covering the events.  For more on the media’s “credulous” repetition of Israeli official stories and failure to provide context, see Esther Kaplan’s blog in The Nation. And for the most comprehensive analysis, take a look at the multiple entries in Juan Cole’s Informed Consent blog.

As BP tries another maneuver, early morning reports say that the diamond-tipped saw it is using to cut the pipe is “stuck,” that the feds have launched a criminal investigation, and that the oil is nearing Florida beaches. Here’s my in-depth look at the oil spill and issues surrounding it.

In Afghanistan, peace talks came under attack, reports the BBC. No big surprise there – the war continues to go badly. The New York Times reports on the much-touted surge in Marja, which was supposed to result in finally getting Afghan police and government to run that town:

The conduct of Marja’s interim police, from a unit American officials describe as the Interior Ministry’s most promising force, has been undercut by drug use, petty corruption and, at times, a lack of commitment in the face of the ordinary hardships and duties of uniformed life.

When the force first arrived in late winter, entire units refused to stand guard or clean their living areas, several Marines said, and in northern Marja, police shifts often still abandon checkpoints during the sweltering midday heat, disappearing for lunch breaks lasting hours. Some officers have deserted the force.

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