Opinion editor’s note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts are dealing with similar challenges, including managing distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, declining enrollment, learning disparities and budget pressures. On Nov. 3, voters in those districts will elect new school board members — four in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul.
In Minneapolis, one board member will be elected citywide to the nine-person board, and three will come from the second, fourth and sixth districts. St. Paul voters will fill the seat held by board member Marny Xiong, who died from COVID-19 in June. The winner will finish Xiong’s term for the next year, then the seat will be on the ballot for a regular four-year term in 2021.
Incumbent Board Chairwoman Kim Ellison, 56, was appointed in 2012 to fill a vacancy, then was elected without opposition in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. She has earned a third term.
Ellison supports the Comprehensive District Design because it will create systemic change and boost student achievement. She says the plan will allow the district to prioritize time and resources on literacy, social-emotional learning, support and equity. The plan, approved last spring, aims to redistribute resources by redrawing attendance boundaries and shifting magnet schools to the city’s center.
Running against Ellison is Michael Dueñes, a policy analyst and former community college dean who is urging the district to slow its implementation of the plan to collect more feedback.
Challenger Sharon El-Amin, 49, gets the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsement. She’s a small-business owner who has served on numerous school, city and nonprofit boards and committees. She’s an independent thinker whose experience has helped her learn how to work collaboratively, set priorities and adjust budgets. El-Amin wants to see more transparency and accountability in the district.
Incumbent Kerry Jo Felder, 47, works as a community and education organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. She was first elected in 2016 and believes in “full service community schools.” In our view, Felder sometimes has difficulty balancing advocacy for her district with the needs of students citywide.
This seat is open because incumbent Bob Walser did not run. The best choice to replace him is Christa Mims, 36, a Hennepin County education support manager. Her experience as a social worker, school director, ESL teacher and racial disparity reduction leader would serve her well. Her priorities would be to provide responsible and proactive governance, ensure financial stability, demand racial equity, and empower parents and families.
Also running is Adriana Cerrillo, 46, a community organizer who owns a consulting business. She is passionate about improving schools for students of color but could use a broader range of experience.
Incumbent Ira Jourdain, 44, is running without opposition.
St. Paul school board
Incumbent Jim Vue, 40, should be elected to the board after being appointed to fill a vacancy last summer. He is a Hmong Cultural Educator, a veteran who served in Iraq in the Army reserves and a parent of five children, including two with special needs. He’s been a thoughtful, independent-thinking board member who brings the important perspective of Hmong parents to the board. About one-third of the district’s students are Asian.
Also seeking to fill the seat are two candidates who ran unsuccessfully in 2019: Charlotte Castro, 40, a systems analyst and an adjunct professor in the Minnesota State University system, and Keith Hardy, 57, an IT project manager for Wells Fargo and a former board member.
Also on the ballot are James Farnsworth, 22, a senior at the University of Minnesota and executive director of the Highland Business Association; Jamila Mame, 24, an organizer for TakeAction Minnesota, and Omar Syed, 45, a small-business owner who ran unsuccessfully for a board seat in 2019.
Though school board seats are nonpartisan, most of the candidates in Minneapolis and St. Paul reported being Democrats or DFLers. Only Cerrillo did not list a party affiliation. The DFL did not endorse a candidate in St. Paul. In Minneapolis, Ellison, Felder, Mims and Jordan won DFL endorsement.
TO OUR READERS
This concludes the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsements for the 2020 election season. To see the full collection of recommendations we’ve made over the last two weeks, go to tinyurl.com/2020-endorse.