Concerns about equity in education are driving candidates running for the Minneapolis school board this fall, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the rollout of a controversial Comprehensive District Design plan.
Four seats are on the Nov. 3 ballot: incumbent Kim Ellison is facing Michael Dueñes for the at-large seat; Christa Mims and Adriana Cerrillo, both first-time candidates, are running to represent District 4, an area including downtown and neighborhoods near Lake of the Isles and Bde Maka Ska; incumbent KerryJo Felder faces Sharon El-Amin to represent District 2 in north Minneapolis; and incumbent Ira Jourdain is the sole candidate in the district encompassing southwest Minneapolis.
In the primary election for the at-large and District 4 seats, Ellison and Mims received the most votes.
Both Ellison and Dueñes name equity as the top focus in the at-large race. But they disagree on whether the Comprehensive District Design achieves that. The plan, approved last spring, aims to redistribute resources by redrawing attendance boundaries and shifting magnet schools to the city’s center.
Ellison, who was first appointed to the board in 2012, said board members identified equity as a focus before the district redesign and must now look at the issue as it relates to curriculum, staffing and enrollment. She is “still excited” about the comprehensive plan and said it will save transportation costs, allowing the district to shift more funding to other services.
Dueñes opposed the Comprehensive District Design and said if elected, he would urge the district to slow its implementation to collect more input. He is also calling for a transparent budget and a deeper understanding of why students are leaving Minneapolis schools.
“There’s a lot of goodwill out there; it’s a matter of rebuilding relationships,” he said.
In the race for the District 4 seat, Mims, a Hennepin County social worker, has also emphasized her desire for a more robust community engagement process. The district hasn’t been effective in reaching voices from the “least resourced and most vulnerable,” Mims said. She wants increased translation services and more communication avenues between district officials and parents.
Cerrillo, a community organizer who owns a consulting business, said property tax-based funding creates financial inequalities that hurt districts like the one she hopes to represent. If elected, she said she’d push to address that funding gap as part of a larger effort to reduce racial disparities in schools. “We say money is not the solution, but guess what — it often is,” she said.
Felder also hopes to increase staff diversity and bring “wraparound services” into the schools, according to her campaign’s Facebook page. She joined the board in 2017 and works as a community and education organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.
El-Amin’s campaign website calls for transparency and accountability surrounding the district’s goals. She supports investing in “alternative success pathways” such as vocational training and entrepreneurship programs.
Felder and El-Amin did not respond to requests for comment.
Jourdain, who has been on the board since 2017, plans to focus on ways to attract and retain students.
The Minneapolis DFL Party has endorsed Ellison, Mims, Felder and Jourdain.
The League of Women Voters Minneapolis will host a school board candidate forum Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Facebook Live.