In the past two years, the St. Paul school board has selected a new superintendent, weathered multimillion-dollar budget cuts and overhauled the district's school boundaries and instruction with its "Strong Schools, Strong Communities'' strategic plan.
During the next two to four years, the district needs board leaders who can shepherd that plan and be flexible enough to make modifications if necessary. Board members will need to work effectively with district administrators while also representing constituents. Other key challenges include managing limited resources efficiently and staying focused on improving achievement.
On that score, like most urban school districts, St. Paul has a lot of work to do. About 75 percent of students in the 38,000-student, $630-million-a-year district are students of color; 70 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch; and about 40 percent come from families where languages other than English are spoken at home. Reading scores on statewide tests ticked up slightly this year, yet only 56 percent of the students were proficient. In math, 68 percent of white students were proficient, compared with 24 percent of black students.
On Nov. 8, St. Paul voters will elect four of seven school board members to address those challenges; 10 candidates are competing for those four spots. The new board will welcome at least two new faces because current members Jeff Risberg and Kazoua Kong-Thao are not running.Top candidates
After hearing from the candidates during Editorial Board interviews and at community forums, it's clear that voters have a generally good group from which to choose. However, incumbents Anne Carroll and Keith Hardy and newcomers Devin Miller and Louise Seeba rise to the top. Carroll, 56, is seeking a fourth four-year term. She serves as board treasurer and is a strong, articulate advocate for the strategies that must be employed to improve schools. The self-employed strategic planner and consultant said her priority is to create a premier education for all students, and she believes the district's new strategic plan can do that by better aligning the curriculum with what students should learn and ending practices that don't work.
A bank project analyst and former IT trainer, Hardy, 48, currently serves as board clerk. He's been an independent voice on the board and asks tough, necessary questions of the administration. During his first term, he visited every school twice, and he's worked to improve community listening sessions. Hardy thinks the district can work within its means, but that it should be able to recover funds lost in state budget shifts, which forced the board to borrow.
With 20-plus years of experience working with struggling students and families, Miller, 46, would bring an important community connection to the board. He's a green-energy consultant and an assistant pastor with a degree in business management. Miller has run programs for suspended students and was a member of the "God Squad'' group that worked to get kids out of gangs. Through that grass-roots work with African-American youths, he understands the needs of many district families and students. Miller would bring fresh thinking to the board, as well as approaches that have worked with youths in his nonprofit efforts.
Seeba, 40, is a St. Paul assistant city attorney with two elementary-age children in the district. In addition to her law degree, she holds undergraduate degrees in management and economics and worked in banking, which would help her contribute to budgeting and management decisions. She believes schools need more resources, and she would work to reverse state budget cuts, use funds wisely, end ineffective programs and invest in early childhood education.
Carroll, Hardy and Seeba have DFL endorsement, while Miller is endorsed by the Green Party.Second, third tier
DFL-endorsed Mary Doran, 49, and Republican endorsed Kevin Huepenbecker, 41, are in our second tier of candidates. Huepenbecker has raised important questions about the use of district funds. And both candidates are dedicated school volunteers who are well-informed about the district budget after serving on the Citizen's Budget Committee and other parent organizations.
The remaining candidates are former board member Al Oertwig, 66, reading tutor and teacher Lizz Paulson, 49, and realtor Pat Igo, 69. Each of them care deeply about students and their community.
A tenth candidate is Tiffany Fearing, 25, who works at a home improvement store. She did not participate in community forums or the Star Tribune screening interviews.