With filing now closed, St. Paul school board candidates include one who eschews social media and another inspired by “The Untouchables.” The five most serious candidates are DFL-endorsed Zuki Ellis, Jon Schumacher, Steve Marchese, and Mary Vanderwert, all of whom identify with the teachers-union-backed Caucus for Change, and school board incumbent Keith Hardy, who is running without endorsement. The four who are elected in November will deal continuing problems, including student achievement, discipline and budgets, as well as middle school students leaving the district.
Zuki Ellis has deep connections to St. Paul Public Schools, as an alum of Webster Elementary and Highland Park Senior High School, and the mother of three SPPS students. Her web page lists detailed and thoughtful positions on key issues from the botched mainstreaming initiative rolled out a couple of years ago to iPads in classrooms and corporate talk in the district office. On mainstreaming:
“For both Special Education and ELL students, the word ‘mainstreaming’ has been used to disguise blatant neglect for individual student progress, and I cannot support the way it has been carried out.
“By cutting entire programs for the sake of ‘mainstreaming’ students, without any regard for the needs of individual students, the district has shown a total disregard for those students’ potential to succeed. (They’re called Individual Education Plans for a reason.) “By providing additional support staff in the classroom, we can make steps toward making sure students are still getting the individual attention they need and deserve, and that our teachers are able to fully address the needs of all students.”
Jon Schumacher cites his 23 years of involvement with St. Paul Public Schools and long experience as an executive director of a community nonprofit. His Facebook page lists school visit after school visit last spring — he’s clearly making this campaign a top priority. His Facebook page gives a platform summary that includes criticism of “critical initiatives implemented in our schools in ways that have jeopardized their intended goals and strained relationships across the district,” and says that “The challenges we face as a community are too big to overcome without the support of all school stakeholders.”
Steve Marchese has come up against schools before, as an attorney for students and families in desegregation cases and in special education issues. He has served on the site council at St. Anthony Park Elementary, and his children now attend Capitol Hill and Central High School. His Facebook page says:
“Time and again, the administration with the support of the board has pursued a well-intentioned effort to increase educational equity only to have it be undermined by arrogance, poor communication and questionable administrative decisions. Educational equity is too important to be undermined by poor implementation.
“We do not need to choose between equity and competence. We do not have to pit members of our school community against each other to succeed. To effectively address educational disparities in our community, we need all hands on deck, not my way or the highway. Parents must be consulted as the experts on their own children. Teachers must be engaged and supported to bring their best work to the classroom.”
Mary Vanderwert, the fourth DFL-endorsed candidate, says on her web page that she will work for collaboration, and that:
“As a single parent I sent my three children to Saint Paul Public schools where they thrived. The education they received from the Saint Paul Public Schools positioned them for success in college and as adults. I want all children and parents in Saint Paul to have the same great experience I had.”
Incumbent school board member Keith Hardy initially said he wouldn’t run without DFL endorsement. He didn’t get the endorsement, but eventually decided to run again anyway, saying that SPPS teachers and employees, parents and community members who urged him to stay on the board. From his June 28 press release:
“Because of the policy changes and district initiatives during my service on the board, SPPS graduation rates are increasing across all student groups while academic achievement is increasing for more students in the past four years,” Hardy noted. “However, too many of our black and brown male students continue to feel pushed out of school or feel that school is irrelevant in their lives. As an African American man, I feel responsible for changing that. Currently, I am the only board member or candidate who is like them,” Hardy said
Caucus for Change has extensive candidate questionnaires posted on their website.
Scott Raskiewicz has a unique approach to his campaign for school board: he doesn’t believe in online communication. His bare bones Facebook page announces:
“I find email, texting, etc. dehumanizing. (If elected I realize I’ll have to spend time engaged in the unhealthy process of staring at a computer screen reading emails and I am reluctantly prepared to do so.) And I’m not much of a phone person. Thus, I ask that all initial contacts be made via the democratic means of the United States Post Office.”
As for the rest of his platform …
“For seventeen years, in addition to my work as a writer, philosopher, and tennis teaching professional, I was a part-time substitute teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools. In June of 2014, along with every other sub in the St. Paul district, I was fired so that substitute staffing could be taken over by a corporation. Part of the reason I am running for school board is to help halt the increasing privatization of public education in America.”
Aaron Benner, a long-time critic from inside SPPS, decided to run at the last minute. Formerly a St. Paul teacher, he left recently to work at the Community of Peace Academy charter school as an African American liaison and behavior coach. Benner’s criticism centers on district disciplinary policy, which he believes is too lax. He criticizes the district for failure to discipline black students, and believes the district is not suspending enough students. According to EAG News:
“It crossed my mind about a month ago,” Benner said about running for the board. “I was actually on a treadmill watching the moving The Untouchables. It’s about Elliott Ness and how he was assigned to rid Chicago during the prohibition era of Al Capone and his cronies.
“It reminded me of St. Paul Public Schools and the arrogance, how they are not only corrupt, but are going to throw it right in your face and challenge you to do something about it. I thought to myself, somebody needs to be an Elliott Ness.
Greg Copeland is that rare bird, a St. Paul Republican. He has run for school board before, garnering less than 10 percent of the vote. Not much prospect of winning this time around either.
Linda Freeman is somewhat of a mystery, with no listed campaign page. The Pioneer Press describes her as “on the ballot 20 years after failing to make it past the primary round of her first run for school board,” and says she shares some of the concerns of the Caucus for Change.
Voters will choose four of the nine candidates to serve on the school board. Long-time St. Paul school board member Anne Carroll and first-termers Mary Doran and Louise Seeba all opted not to run again. John Brodrick, Jean O’Connell and Chue Vue are serving terms that run through 2017.