Heated contest ahead for St. Paul school board

school bus

UPDATED 1/30 – St. Paul will elect four out of seven school board members this fall, and the election season promises to be lively. Three of the incumbents are running, and at least nine other people have talked about challenging them. The first step comes at February 3 precinct caucuses. Issues include:

  • Last year’s mainstreaming of special education students with emotional and behavioral problems: The major criticism: too little preparation and planning, followed by discipline and behavior problems.
  • Moving sixth grade to middle schools: That happened last year, at the same time that EBD students were mainstreamed. Lots of people think there was too little preparation on both moves.
  • Paul’s persistent gap in test scores between white students and students of color, and between students of different economic levels: There’s some gradual progress, but it’s agonizingly slow.
  • This year’s iPads for all students initiative: Was there adequate teacher training before it began? And is there adequate band width for computers in the classroom?
  • Later start times for high school students: Educators and medical evidence agree that a later start time is better, but last year’s proposal pitted older students against younger. Switching high school and elementary start times would have left kindergartners waiting for school buses in the pre-dawn darkness, so the plan was put on hold. Does this have to be a zero sum game?

Incumbent school board members whose seats are up for election are Mary Doran, Keith Hardy, Anne Carroll and Louise Seeba. Seeba has said she will not seek a second termMary Doran, who is finishing her first term, is running for re-election. Keith Hardy has served two terms and is running for a third. Anne Carroll, on the board since 2000, is running for re-election.

Several announced candidates who have campaign websites or Facebook pages are listed below in alphabetical order.

Zuki Williams Ellis has a first-grader at J.J. Hill Montessori and an older son who graduated from St. Paul schools. She chairs the parent-teacher organization there and trains parents for the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project in St. Paul. She monitored the teacher contract negotiations last year, and expressed concerns about large class sizes and inadequate school nurse staffing.

Steve Marchese is a St. Paul parent with students at Central High School and Capitol Hill Magnet School, is “an attorney providing pro bono counsel to low-income clients with great need.”

Al Oertwig served on the St. Paul School board for 20 years, but withdrew after failing to get DFL endorsement in 2007. He’s running again this year.

Jon Schumacher also plans to run. He’s executive director for the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation and has two daughters who graduated from St. Paul schools.

Mary Vanderwert used to be Head Start collaboration director for the Minnesota Department of Education, and has had three children educated in St. Paul schools.

Zander Danielson Sellie is 19 years old and a graduate of Great River School in St. Paul. UPDATE 1/28 – Zander Sellie will not be running, according to information from Roy Magnuson and Jesssica Banks.

UPDATE 1/28 – Jessica Banks describes herself as a “ubiquitous activist on issues of equality and justice.”

Rafael Espinosa, Virtis Lanier, and Robert McClain have also been mentioned as possible candidates, but I couldn’t locate any web or Facebook pages for their candidacies.

Sarah Lechowich shared a lively and thought-provoking reflection on school board candidates on Facebook. Here’s part of what the post (author unknown at this time) said:

Disrupt their lives to run for arguably the most thankless, underpaid and overstressed job in town. Why? Because they believe that our school district has serious issues and is heading in the wrong direction. And they care enough to stand up and challenge incumbent board members who collectively are 7-0 in citywide elections.

If, in the past couple of years you have shaken your head in dismay at stories brought home from your school; shaken your head at stories in the newspaper, shaken your fist in frustration at stories shared by parents or teachers – now is the time for you to put your action where your mouth is. …

Before you start tuning out and making reasons to skip to the next post, please keep in mind, the old quote, often used by Paul Wellstone; “the world is run by those who show up.” Nine people are showing up (with a couple more still considering). They deserve your interest. …

You want me to go to a strange place and hang out with strangers doing strange things? … Tuesday, Feb 3 go to a school in your neighborhood, sit with your neighbors and engage in what might be the most important thing you will do this year – save our schools and our future.

Now, you are exaggerating. No, you are rationalizing away your civic duty. Complain. Now act.

Next thing I know I will be making phone calls and door knocking on houses. That is up to you. You could, share this post, call two people that you talk to about education issues and give each other a pep talk and say – this is the time to be involved. And, it really isn’t that much time. …

Do – put Tuesday, February 3 at 7:00 on your calendar.
Do – care about our kids, our schools, our neighborhoods, our city, our future.

Which is run, (all together now) by those who show up.

Show up.

The citywide DFL endorsing convention is scheduled for April 19, but DFL precinct caucuses, which start the process, are next week: Tuesday, February 3, across the city. Click here to find out your ward and precinct, and then show up at 6:30 to sign in for the 7 p.m. caucus. Two ward conventions will follow the precinct caucuses on the same evening, with the other five ward conventions coming some time between the precinct caucus and city convention.

For more information, keep an eye on reporting from Josh Verges at the Pioneer Press. You can follow his Twitter account here.

You can also meet the candidates on Thursday, January 29 at the Saint Paul NAACP Saint Paul Board of Education Candidate Forum, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center (270 N. Kent Street.) The program starts with a one-hour reception, followed by a “listening session.” I’m not sure whether the candidates are listening to voters or vice versa, but it should be an opportunity to hear what they are thinking.

And the St. Paul Federation of Teachers is hosting “caucus for change” training on Wednesday night (January 29) and again on Saturday.

UPDATE 1/28 – Zander Sellie will not be running, according to information from Roy Magnuson and Jesssica Banks.

Jessica Banks, who is a candidate, describes herself as a “ubiquitous activist on issues of equality and justice.”

CORRECTION 1/30: To the spelling of Sarah Lechowich’s last name, and that she posted but is not the author of the quotation above.

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