Last Sunday’s DFL city convention assured that the St. Paul school board will have a majority of new members next year. At a session that lasted nearly nine hours, delegates rejected three incumbents to endorse four first-time candidates.
All who sought the DFL nod said they would not run without the endorsement. If they stick to those pledges, the seven-member board will have four new directors. Louise Seeba is not running for re-election, and incumbents Mary Doran, Keith Hardy and Anne Carroll were not endorsed.
Growing numbers of teachers and parents have expressed unhappiness with district leadership in recent years. Their dissatisfaction with school behavior and other district decisions led to the formation of the Caucus for Change group. The district’s teachers union hired two full-time organizers to work with parents, teachers and others on pre-convention training and other activities.
Yet in the seven months before the vote, St. Paul voters should carefully evaluate the DFL contenders along with others who choose to run by the August filing deadline. It shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion that the DFL convention is the election — or that only DFL, union-endorsed candidates can or should be elected.
We’re not prejudging the endorsees. Rather, voters should be able to choose from a broader field of candidates. As the campaign unfolds, citizens should ask how the candidates will address school behavior concerns, enrollment issues, and parent and community engagement — and what strategies they’ll use to improve achievement and close learning gaps between student groups.
The DFL delegates endorsed Zuki Williams Ellis, a PTO chair and parent trainer for a teacher home-visit project; Steve Marchese, an attorney who runs the state bar association’s pro bono program; Jon Schumacher, executive director of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation, and Mary Vanderwert, a veteran early-education worker and former state Head Start collaboration director.
There will be not be a primary to narrow the field, so St. Paul voters have some homework to do before the election. They need to get involved, attend forums and get to know the candidates.