The races for two Minneapolis school board seats feature incumbents grappling for votes against newcomers who secured key endorsements during the campaign.
The DFL Party did not endorse board members Josh Reimnitz and Tracine Asberry, leaving them hoping word of mouth and experience brings them wins on Election Day. The DFL and the teachers union did endorse their opponents: Bob Walser, a music educator running against Reimnitz, and Ira Jourdain, a limo driver with a human services background challenging Asberry. They’re hoping those endorsements will lead to wins.
School board races aren’t partisan, but the DFL endorsement is seen as an important symbol for publicity.
“As a newcomer, there would be no chance of my having any hope of winning a seat without the DFL endorsement,” said Walser, a candidate in the District 4 race.
The election comes at a time of change for the district while new Superintendent Ed Graff finds his footing. The nine-member board has been accused of dysfunction and a lack of transparency during a year rife with difficult issues, including a drawn-out superintendent search.
In District 6 in the southwest part of the city, some voters say they support Jourdain, 40, because he’s promised a commitment to troublesome issues, including a recent complaint: overcrowding and funding issues at Washburn High School. Others stand behind Asberry’s work on the board, especially her commitment to racial equity.
In District 4, enveloping downtown, Bryn Mawr and the East Isles neighborhoods, Reimnitz, 30, is trying to hang on to a seat he snagged with financial backing from reform educators four years ago. He has said his experience on the board, especially in crafting a new board policy, gives him a leg up.
But his opponent Walser, 62, points out that, unlike Reimnitz, he has a son in Minneapolis Public Schools and his wife teaches there. He said he views students as “more than a test score.”
Neither of the other two board races this year match unendorsed current board members with first-timers. DFL-endorsed incumbent Kim Ellison and challenger Doug Mann are running for an at-large seat being vacated by board member Carla Bates. That frees up Ellison’s current District 2 seat for a newcomer — either DFL-endorsed KerryJo Felder or Kimberly Caprini.
The teachers union, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, seen as another power-player in the election, endorsed the same slate of candidates as the DFL.
Asberry, 47, said she did not apply for the union’s endorsement this year, saying that she wants an endorsement from the families and students she is “elected to serve.” Reimnitz, who serves as interim director at Breakthrough Twin Cities, said he doesn’t know what to expect from his lack of those endorsements.
“I think if people just take that as word, then I’ll certainly lose those votes,” he said. “But most people I’m talking to are doing their research and I think that bodes well for me.”
Asberry, executive director of St. Paul Youth Services, said she has remained a board stalwart for commitment to children and has pressed Graff to take action. Reimnitz said he is focusing on board governance and is prioritizing parts of the board’s policy manual.
Walser, a musician who’s been an artist-in-residence at schools, said his barn dance at Kenwood School is an example of his community building. Jourdain, who is American Indian, said he wants to work for the whole child, which includes advocating for 30 minutes of recess.
According to campaign finance reports filed Nov. 1 that cover the period from late July to late October, Reimnitz had the highest amount of contributions: nearly $15,000. For the same time period, Walser raked in $8,500 in total contributions, Jourdain garnered about $3,000 and Asberry had nearly $2,000.
When Reimnitz ran for school board in 2012, he raised more than $37,000 for his campaign, with help from his connections across the nation in education reform. Reimnitz’s contributors this time include local residents and people affiliated with Teach For America and Hiawatha Academies, a Twin Cities charter network.
But Reimnitz said his campaign relies on volunteers and money isn’t going to be the determining factor.
“That’s not what’s going to win me the race,” he said. “I think it’s going out and talking to people.”