Many Hopkins parents are worried that three candidates in next week’s school board election are more interested in helping an affluent Edina neighborhood leave the district than in helping Hopkins students.
What was expected to be a quiet race instead has been buffeted by suspicions that the three are supporters of Unite Edina 273, a group of Parkwood Knolls and Walnut Drive residents who have been trying for years to detach themselves from Hopkins Public Schools.
None of the three — Gary Jing, Heather Hansen, or Toby McKenna — have children enrolled in Hopkins schools. None have appeared at local candidate forums to discuss the reasons they are running for the seven-member board. And that really irks some Hopkins parents.
E-mails have circulated among members of parent-teacher organizations discouraging votes for the three candidates while some Hopkins parents have asked Unite Edina on its Facebook page about whether they’re trying to infiltrate the school board.
The three candidates — among a field of seven for three at-large seats — aren’t publicly saying much, though Jing says that he wants to help Hopkins schools get better academically and financially.
Just days before the election, the candidates’ connection to Unite Edina remains somewhat murky. McKenna, whose candidacy paperwork shows he lives in Parkwood Knolls, is no longer actively running. When asked if was a member of Unite Edina or supported the group’s cause, he declined to comment.
Attempts to reach Hansen, a real estate agent and the marketing and sales manager for Carl M. Hansen Companies, one of the original developers of Parkwood Knolls, have been unsuccessful. She has told some local media outlets she’s most focused on decreasing enrollment and a lack of a sense of community throughout the entire district.
Jing, who lives in Parkwood Knolls, said that he is not a member of Unite Edina but that the detachment issue inspired him to run for office. He has sent written statements to each candidate forum and has been willing to discuss his thoughts about Hopkins Public Schools. Some are critical.
“Hopkins isn’t a bad school but it’s not the best either,” he said of the district’s academic performance.
David Schmid, the former PTO president at Glen Lake Elementary in the Hopkins District, was an organizer of a recent candidate forum.
“I think there was a number of people at the forum who were disappointed these [three] candidates didn’t show up because they wanted to hear what they have to say.”
Unite Edina’s views
Matt McNeil, a Gatewood Elementary parent, is a critic of Unite Edina 273. “It seems the next course of action to get themselves peeled off our school district is to run for the school board,” he said. “It’s pretty despicable if you ask me.”
But Alan Koehler, one of the leaders of Unite Edina, said the group did not persuade the three candidates to run. He did say he sent out an e-mail to group members letting them know the legal qualifications to run for school board.
“People seem to be equating us to a political party running a slate of candidates,” Koehler said. “We don’t have that kind of mechanism in place.”
He added that he’s been surprised by the “venom” coming from Hopkins parents about the three candidates.
“Anybody who meets the legal requirements should be able to run next Tuesday,” Koehler said. “It shouldn’t be just the residents who are well-served by their district and live in close proximity to their schools.”
Most of the 400-plus families who live in the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood in northwest Edina go to Edina schools through open enrollment.
But Unite Edina repeatedly argued they shouldn’t have to apply via open enrollment to go to schools that are in their city, which boasts top national rankings and high rates of college-bound students.
For Hopkins, which draws students from seven suburbs, finances are a major part of the issue.
Last year, an outside financial consultant projected the district would lose $557,000 in revenue a year if the Edina neighborhood left. Several Hopkins school board members cited that loss when they voted unanimously last year to deny the detachment request.
Betsy Scheurer Anderson, a board member who’s running for re-election, said she’s surprised the issue has factored in so heavily in this year’s contest.
“For us, it’s a done deal,” she said of the detachment request. “We made the decision and we’ve moved on.”
Anderson said she would rather discuss other issues facing Hopkins schools. Still, she acknowledges that lingering concerns about Unite Edina 273 very may well drive more Hopkins voters to the polls this year.
“If it gets more people interested in what our school board does, that’s a good thing in my opinion,” she said.
The other candidates in Tuesday’s election are Katy Fulkerson, Warren Goodroad and Michael Doobie Kurus. Goodroad is also an incumbent.