About 20 years ago, seventh-grader Melvin Carter III took a philosophy class from a St. Paul social studies teacher as part of a gifted and talented ­program. She never forgot what a “bright young man” he was.

On Monday, that teacher — now state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius — announced she was appointing Carter director of the Office of Early Learning starting in July, when he will step down from the First Ward seat he has held on the St. Paul City Council since 2008.

Carter’s resignation from the council is sure to set off a scramble for his seat, first for an interim replacement appointed by the City Council and then for a special election this fall, when voters will choose a candidate to fill out the remaining two years of his second term. “It certainly wasn’t something I was looking for,” said Carter, 34. “But this is an exciting opportunity that is central to everything that is important to me.”

Cassellius said that Carter’s background in neighborhood organization and policy development — especially his role with the Promise Neighborhood aiding elementary students in the Frogtown and Summit-University areas — will help him work across department lines and around the state to get preschoolers ready for the classroom.

Gov. Mark Dayton and the House are proposing $44 million in next year’s budget for early learning scholarships to help low-income families cover tuition at child-care facilities. The Senate bill ­contains $50 million for that purpose.

Carter will replace Karen Cadigan, who is ­stepping down as director to spend more time with her young child.

Dayton established three entities, including the Office of Early Learning, to tackle early learning issues shortly after he took office as governor in 2011. Carter will coordinate efforts among the Health, Education and Human Services departments and also oversee the state’s $45 million Race to the Top federal grant for early education services in St. Paul’s Promise Neighborhood, the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis, Itasca County and the White Earth Reservation.

Carter, a recently divorced father of two daughters ages 7 and 5, will get a significant pay hike with his new job. He earns $57,300 annually as a part-time City Council member, but will be paid $102,771 as ­director of the early learning office.

Although Carter will remain in office for two more months, the City Council already was making plans Monday to replace him. The city’s website invited residents seeking temporary appointment to the seat to submit a résumé and cover letter by the end of May.


Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this story.