Eight St. Paul school board candidates took questions from students at a youth forum on Monday that for the most part focused on personal rather than political concerns.
First, though, there was the politics.
The event came a week after the St. Paul Federation of Teachers filed a campaign finance report showing that it had received $50,178 from Education Minnesota to assist with this year's get-out-the-vote efforts.
That was in addition to an earlier $50,000 contribution from the American Federation of Teachers -- all part of a union push to persuade DFL activists and now city voters to back four candidates running under a Caucus for Change banner critical of district leadership.
Most of the students at Monday's event at Sun Ray Library were middle-school-aged, but that did not stop two candidates -- Greg Copeland, a former Maplewood city manager and St. Paul city GOP leader, and Scott Raskiewicz, a former substitute teacher -- from issuing sharp opening statements straight out of a rally or political science lecture hall.
Copeland, pointing to the infusion of national and state money in district-level races, thundered that the teachers union had turned the school board election into "an auction." Raskiewicz railed against the "leadership class" and a Democratic party controlled by the "corporate elite."
The students -- many wearing orange Battle Creek Middle School Panthers T-shirts -- responded to each of the board hopefuls with equally robust applause. But then, with the first question, they showed that this would be a different type of candidates forum. That question being: How would the candidates work to improve the quality of school lunches?
Rashad Turner, organizer of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, who is running a write-in campaign with Green Party support, said that the lunches should reflect the various cultures within the state's second-largest district. "I don't want soul food to be cooked only at the crib," he said.
But there was time for weightier subjects, too. Students wondered why there were stereotypes based on "someone's actions." One student, identifying himself as D.J., asked why students should be expected to show respect to teachers but not always receive it in return.
"Adults don't always do the smart thing," said Zuki Ellis.
"It breaks my heart that you have to ask that question, D.J.," added Mary Vanderwert.
Along with Steve Marchese and Jon Schumacher, Ellis and Vanderwert are running with DFL endorsement in heavily DFL St. Paul.
One incumbent, Keith Hardy, still is in the race, and he hinted at the potential of the crowd in a simple greeting: "Good afternoon, young leaders," he said.
Monday's forum was sponsored by groups that include St. Paul Youth Services, Youth Intervention Programs Association and Students for Education Reform - Minnesota.