Five of the nine seats on the Minneapolis school board are up for grabs in the November election, with big decisions ahead for the district.

The newly elected board, once seated in January, will be charged with leading the search for the district's permanent superintendent, who will take over when interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox's one-year term is up next summer.

The board must also rebuild trust across the district and find ways to slow the decline in enrollment, which is further straining a budget currently balanced using federal funds that will sunset in 2024. That's halfway through the new board members' four-year terms.

Voters will choose from eight candidates to fill two open at-large seats along with three seats representing areas of the district. Half the candidates in the nonpartisan races are running on a slate endorsed by the Minneapolis DFL and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the city's teachers union. Those four — KerryJo Felder, Collin Beachy, Fathia Feerayarre and Lori Norvell — also received endorsements from the Regional Labor Federation.


Felder and Beachy are running against Lisa Skjefte and Sonya Emerick for the two citywide positions. Feerayarre is running unopposed for the seat representing the city's center, while Norvell and Laurelle Myhra are competing for the southeast Minneapolis seat. Abdul Abdi, who also is unopposed and endorsed by the city DFL, would represent the northeast part of the district.

Greta Callahan, teacher chapter president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said the union's endorsement is an important one, particularly after last spring's three-week teacher strike revealed the distrust and friction between educators and district leadership.

"It's the board members' names on [the teacher] contract," Callahan said. "Having board members who are going to work with the people on the ground floor and involve us in decisions — that's what is best for our students."

Felder, an organizer with the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation who wants to attract more families to the district, said the slate formed "pretty organically" before seeking the union endorsement.

"We all have different strengths, and we've learned that we have to stick together whether we are agreeing or not — that is important, and it hasn't really happened on the school board over the years," Felder said.

Beachy, a special education teacher in the district, is running for one of the two citywide positions. He said he wants to see schools become community hubs. He said he's been frustrated by the "politicization" of the race and wants to focus on rebuilding trust and relationships across the district.

"I know there are some people who are nervous that this is going to be some sort of political takeover," he said about the union-backed slate. "That's not it at all. I'm not planning to come in and only work with these other people."

Norvell agreed, adding that she doesn't believe endorsements will sway the candidates running on the slate. A former teacher in the district, she said she wants to rebuild trust.

"I'm hopeful that this slate can model the respect and open-mindedness needed to be able to hear each other and have hard discussions," she said.

Feerayarre did not respond to requests for comment.

Several members of the slate have chosen not to attend recent candidate forums hosted by education interest groups, including Educators for Excellence and Integrated Schools. Norvell, Beachy and Felder said they discussed the forums as a slate but made their own decisions on which events to attend. They said they opted instead to use their time door-knocking and talking to other groups.

"I want to engage with established and stable organizations who are also promoting public schools," Norvell said.

Skjefte and Emerick, both candidates for the at-large positions who are not running as a part of the slate, say they are hoping for a diverse school board and look forward to working with whomever is elected. They have said their priorities if elected will be reducing disparities and involving communities of color.

"The politics of it all can get how politics get," said Emerick, a parent of a student receiving special education services. "But if you want to work for kids, let's work together to do it."

Skjefte agreed, but said she worries about the message that's sent when candidates refuse invitations to speak to the community. So does Myhra, an MPS parent and a licensed marriage and family therapist who is running against Norvell for the Fifth District seat.

"I really don't know why they aren't showing up to those opportunities," Myhra said.

The incoming board faces a hefty agenda. Choosing a superintendent is one of the most important decisions to come before a school board, Board Chair Kim Ellison said. That's why the current board is already offering training sessions for incoming members.

The first session covered the role and expectations of a school board member as well as the laws surrounding open meetings. Additional training will be offered for the elected board members before they are seated, Ellison said.

"I'm excited to work with the next board," Ellison said. "I'll have to work with whoever is elected."

Hear from the candidates

The League of Women Voters and Advancing Equity Coalition are co-sponsoring a candidate forum at 1 p.m. Saturday at the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach-Engagement Center, 2001 Plymouth Av., Minneapolis. It will also be livestreamed on YouTube at