Edina-Hopkins school district-line feud becomes election issue

  • Article by: KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 1, 2013 - 9:00 AM

Some parents worry that three Hopkins school board candidates are supporters of Unite Edina 273.

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At the Eisenhower Community Center on 12/20/12, the Hopkins school board including superintendent John Schultz,center, voted not to allow the 400 homes in Edina's Parkwood Knolls neighborhood to leave Hopkins Schools due to loss of tax revenue.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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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.”

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