Those who want to become the next Minneapolis school board member from the city’s east central board district got an oral exam Tuesday night, but the news was who didn’t appear.

Finalist Abdulkakir Abdalla, who directs a Rochester charter school, dropped out before the interviews, the crowd at Sullivan school was told. He confirmed that Wednesday, saying that he was deferring to the widow of Hussein Samatar, Ubah Ali Jama, so she could finish out the term of her late husband on the board.  But he said he’s running for the District 3 seat next year.

That left four applicants to be interviewed by the board, with a board vote scheduled for Nov. 12.  They were asked to answer the seven questions posed by the board in in three minutes each, but the first two, Nicque M. Mabrey and Ira Jordain, gave such brief answers that the board was forced to idle while waiting for the next candidates to arrive for their slots.

Mohamud Noor was by far the most voluble and articulate of those interviewed, taking 17 minutes to discuss board questions, almost twice as much as Jourdain.  He gave a nod to the candidacy of Jama, saying he was applying to give the board an option.

Mabrey acknowledged that her work involves lobbying Outfront Minnesota during when the Legislature will meet, when asked about constraints on her time. “I feel like I’m kept on my toes, but I’m ready to serve,” she said.

Asked about equity in education, the self-described “queer woman of color” said she doesn’t see her status reflected in the classroom, in curriculum or on the board. She said the district’s current strategic plan hasn’t been executed in a way that improves performance of minority students. She said a key issue in the district will be to welcome Latino and Somali immigrants.

Jourdain acknowledge in response to a question about board-management relations that he doesn’t serve on a board now.  He said his work at the Division of Indian Work provides flexibility to serve. He praised the board for taking the suggestion of activist Bill English to hold the interviews in the district, saying transparency was important and community members gain better understanding of the board.

He said one issue he’s heard from area parents is their concern over South High School’s move this year to Metro Transit bus passes.

Jama said she’d already lived and experienced the job of serving on the board through Samatar’s 2-1/2-years before his death in August from leukemia. She said that equity in schools to her means a friendly attitude by staff toward every child. Sjhe said she hopes to break down barriers as a board member to reach immigrant communities and those who are single parents.

Noor came with talking points written on board questions but also extemporized. He stressed his volunteer service. He called student achievement the district’s most critical issue, but also called for quality early childhood education. He called on the district to spreading district resources equitably across schools.

Jourdain was the only applicant to address questions of residency, saying he’s lived in the district most of his life, aside from a stint working at the Red Lake reservation, from which he returned in August.  Mabrey moved to the district in late September, while Noor moved in earlier this month.

The union-reformer divide that arose in last year’s District 4 school board race didn’t arise overtly during the questioning.  Noor was endorsed by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers during a 2011 special election for Minnesota Senate; Samatar was one of two board members to vote against the current teacher contract, saying it didn’t make enough changes.

(Photo: Applicant Nicque Mabrey is interviewed by the school board.)