Along with all of the high-profile state and congressional campaigns, Minneapolis voters should also take notice of an important down-ballot race. On Nov. 6, they will elect two citywide school board members to set policy for the $607 million, 36,500-student Minneapolis public school system.
Those board members must be prepared to manage instructional and fiscal challenges in the state’s second-largest school district and understand how to govern and be responsive to student, parent and other constituent concerns. And with one of the widest student learning disparities between whites and students of color, the board should be laser-focused on improving academic achievement in the district.
In the field of four candidates, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon and newcomer Kimberly Caprini best fit that bill. Gagnon is seeking a third term on the board, and Caprini would replace board member and former City Council member Don Samuels, who is not running for re-election.
Minneapolis has a nine-member school board with six representing areas that correspond with the city’s Park Board districts. The other three directors are elected to serve the entire city and have a special responsibility to consider big-picture school policy.
With two board terms under her belt, Gagnon, 47, is known for her deep knowledge of school issues and for constituent service. She has held several officer roles, including board president, and has served on several city and state boards. She understands that what happens outside of school affects student outcomes, so during her tenure she has worked on issues such as homelessness, safety and health.
During her time on the board, Gagnon and her colleagues hired a new superintendent, Ed Graff, increased enrollment, improved budgeting and reopened some schools. With three children who have graduated from or are currently in MPS schools, Gagnon’s priorities include fiscal stability, implementing sustainable policies and ensuring that equity and accountability drive the district’s work.
Caprini, 54, ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2016 but was the top vote-getter this year’s August primary. The lifelong Minneapolis resident is also the mother of current and former MPS students. She began her involvement as an active volunteer parent a decade ago, but quickly expanded her knowledge about the entire district by getting involved with committees and attending meetings in various part of the city — activities that would serve her well on the board.
Caprini is an independent thinker who understands effective governance and at the same time would connect well with parents and the wider community. Among her priorities are building relationships with the public to improve trust in the district, providing additional support for students with the most needs, and hiring more social workers, counselors and other mental health staff to serve kids.
El-Amin wants to help students throughout the district. Based on her experience as a parent, she is campaigning to correct what she sees as district leader’s shortcomings in accountability, community engagement and transparency.
Pauly taught for three years at a Minneapolis middle school and touts being the only teacher in the race. He runs PeopleSourced Policy, a nonprofit that helps engage people in politics through technology. He is bright and knowledgeable — and with more experience has potential to serve in an elected office.
Though school board races are supposed to be nonpartisan, candidates Caprini and Pauly have DFL endorsement. Gagnon identifies as a DFLer, and El-Amin did not list a party. In addition to the two at-large seats, three other board members will be elected Nov. 6. Board members in District 1 (Jenny Arneson), District 3 (Siad Ali) and District 5 (Nelson Inz) are running unopposed.