Elections 2020: Minneapolis School Board Primary

Minneapolis City Council and Mayoral races are done with instant runoff voting, but school board is not. There’s a primary (you vote for one) and then a runoff between the two top candidates. Five candidates are running for one at-large seat.

Kim Ellison (incumbent, DFL-endorsed)
William Awe
Doug Mann
Lynne Crockett
Michael Dueñes

Kim Ellison

Kim Ellison has been on the Minneapolis school board for eight years (I think) — four as the rep for District 2, four more at-large. (Here’s my post from 2016.) Her website is a Facebook page and is a mix of congratulatory posts to graduates, people getting awards of various kinds, etc., and stuff about how many students were fed free meals during the shutdown and summer.

How you feel about Kim Ellison probably depends heavily on how you feel about the Comprehensive District Design plan, given that she pushed for a vote on it despite the pandemic (and it then passed).

I did not dive into the details of the CDD while it was being debated, because I didn’t have time, but as of now, I have a lot of doubts. Right now, there are some schools that work very well and some schools that work very poorly and my fear is that the CDD will make it so that far more of the schools work very poorly, which in a sense is more equitable but not in a good way.

(I felt particularly facepalm-y over the elimination of K-8 schools in favor of K-5s and middle schools. I went to a K-8 and it is a model that absolutely has its issues. But when my kids were starting their educations, the K-8 was this exciting new thing that was being massively expanded because it “keeps kids kids longer” and provides continuity and more nurture and there were all these reasons why it was supposed to be GREAT, and here we are, less than 15 years later, getting rid of them. The thing is, there are advantages and disadvantages to both models. The disadvantages people are talking about now are exactly the stuff I experienced as a middle schooler at a K-8 school! They’re not new! Seriously, in another 10 years people are going to want to go back to K-8s because our ability to actually pick a thing and stick with it and make it work is nonexistent, apparently.)

The process of pushing it through in a pandemic, with a bunch of changes scheduled for a point when — best case scenario — we’ll still be recovering from the pandemic — also struck me as hugely questionable. The story about parents from Green Central who were shut out from speaking at one of the last in-person School Board meetings because a pro-CDD group had shown up early and signed up for all the slots is really distressing to read.

Along with the rest of the board, Kim Ellison voted to end the contract with the Minneapolis Police for school resource officers.

One final note: Kim Ellison is the ex-wife of Keith Ellison. Their divorce proceedings were unsealed by a judge during Keith’s race for Attorney General in 2018 and one of the bits of dirty laundry that got dragged out was that Kim was physically abusive to Keith. I mulled over whether to talk about this or not, but when this has come up in the past specifically for school board candidates, I’ve mentioned it.

William Awe

If William Awe has any sort of campaign website at all, I wasn’t able to find it. His personal Facebook implies that he’s a parent of a Roosevelt student. According to his LinkedIn, he works for the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Especially in a race that’s not being done with IRV, I would absolutely not waste my vote on someone who has not set up a website.

Doug Mann 

Doug Mann is a crank who runs for school board every time. Sometimes he has the endorsement of the Green party; I’m not sure if he has it this time or not, because the Minnesota Greens website is still listing candidates from 2019. As evidence of my “crank” assessment, allow me to point you at Doug’s Twitter, which is currently wall-to-wall COVID denial, including a link to a Daily Mail editorial that refers to masks as muzzles. I would under no circumstances put a COVID denier on the school board.

Lynne Crockett

Lynne Crockett is an elderly Northsider who is passionate about North High, where she went, her grandchildren went, and her great-granddaughter was valedictorian in 2018. Reading this interview (with a group of North High students) I think you can sense the affection she has for the students and that they have for her. She’s a longtime volunteer at the school and is frequently described as a “neighborhood activist” in news articles.

However — she’s been an activist in favor of keeping SROs (school resource officer, i.e., cops) and in fact decided to run for school board in part because of the push to get rid of them. (She considers getting rid of North High’s SRO to be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” and I’ll note that North High students spoke to the school board in favor of keeping their SRO, who is also their football coach, describing him as “like a father.” A proposal to let North High opt in to having an SRO if they wanted failed to pass.) And she is endorsed by Rebecca Gagnon, who I’m not a huge fan of.

Re the CDD: she’s clearly not a fan, but doesn’t get into the specifics of her objections.

So … yeah. Overall: I like her, and she’s a huge asset to her community. She is clearly deeply committed, someone whose friends have been wishing for years that she’d run for school board (which is, as I note every time, an incredibly thankless task.) I am also pretty sure she’d cast a lot of votes I would disagree with.

Michael Dueñes

Michael Dueñes is a bona fide policy expert on, among other things, closing the achievement gap. His website, frustratingly, delivers his detailed critique of the CDD via a series of YouTube videos (link goes to the playlist). I do not do a great job absorbing information via YouTube video, which is why I have watched maybe three TED talks, ever. I made myself watch the videos (they’re broken up into multiple short videos, which is something of an improvement, and all together are less than 45 minutes long), and I can tell you that he’s smart, incisive, has some specific ideas that MPS could implement to close the achievement gap, and he one hundred percent does not trust the numbers the Board has shared in the past. (I don’t blame him.)

He’s a Seward Montessori parent who advocated really strongly against the CDD. He has a LinkedIn with more details on his professional experience, which includes (very recently) a study done on how we can reduce racial disparities in which students in Minnesota go on to higher education.

He filled out a questionnaire for the teacher’s union; his answers focus heavily on fiscal transparency. (The teacher’s union does not appear to have endorsed anyone in this race.)

I would vote for Michael Dueñes. The fact that he’s worked professionally (and successfully) on closing the achievement gap makes me think he’s likely to be up on research on things that work. I like his orientation toward budgetary transparency because that’s really lacking right now (and has been basically forever).

23 thoughts on “Elections 2020: Minneapolis School Board Primary

  1. I know Will Awe, he’s a Sanford/Northrop parent of 3. Quiet but consistent guy, always shows up even if he’s not one to volunteer (not a knock, I know parents have to limit where they can put their efforts). Didn’t know he was running until I saw this, and since I’m FB friends w/ his wife, that seems like something’s missing. Is there another Will Awe out there?

    • I know Will Awe a little bit, too; he’s a member of my church. He’s been doing a lot of dedicated service there, including handling the technical support involved in getting our church services online each week. I don’t know him well enough to address how well he would serve on the school board.

  2. Naomi: Thank you. I am completing my Primary Ballot right now and School Board Member-at-Large was the only race I needed to research. Yours is concise, helpful, just-in-time analysis – and even makes me think twice about TED talks.

  3. Great analysis. You are a public treasure.

    I will share that when I was in middle school, I supported the never-tried idea of K-7 schools. The theory I had is that 7th and 8th graders (ages 12-14) are *the worst*, and therefore should not be gathered in large numbers, but should be broken up and outnumbered by other age brackets as much as possible; by putting the 8th graders in high school and the 7th graders in elementary school, you minimize the concentration of puberty-mad people in one place and prevent them from dominating either school culture.

    Seemed worth a try, but nobody’s ever tried it.

  4. I carefully read the interviewsfor the candidates running for at large school board in 2018. Not on of them made it their priority to reduce the disparities in high school graduation rates.

    It seems to me that for a lot of white parents ( esp. In SW Mpls. which controled school board for decades) that is long as their child gets a good education they don’t care if black, brown or red children get an inferior education or drop out.

    The disparity in high school graduation rates is one of the things fueling the recent riots in Minneapolis. Disparity in high school graduation rates is white people saying black lives don’t matter

  5. Voting for a white dude over a black woman whose been doing the work and repping the most under-funded schools in the city for years is certainly not how I’d go about reducing disparities in education

  6. I’m just going to point out as a member of the pro-CDD group that we showed up and sat down instead of protesting on Broadway with the anti-CDD group. I guess you had to make the de union about where you wanted to be that night- with a sign on the street, or in a seat. I sat in a mostly empty room for a good 20 minutes, there was ample opportunity to get a seat. Choices were made. As for speaking at the meeting, everyone had the chance to sign up to speak weeks in advance as well as the night of the meeting. This narrative that we somehow took their opportunity away is weak.

  7. I’m just going to point out as a member of the pro-CDD group that we showed up and sat down instead of protesting on Broadway with the anti-CDD group. I guess you had to make the decision about where you wanted to be that night- with a sign on the street, or in a seat. I sat in a mostly empty room for a good 20 minutes, there was ample opportunity to get a seat. Choices were made. As for speaking at the meeting, everyone had the chance to sign up to speak weeks in advance as well as the night of the meeting. This narrative that we somehow took their opportunity away is weak.

    • Green Central Park Elementary is a school where 56% of the students are English language learners, almost 90% are on free or reduced lunch, and 8.5% are homeless.

      “They should have come straight in! Or signed up (online) weeks in advance!” Yes, it’s definitely the fault of a group of extremely impoverished parents, at least half of whom are non-native speakers of English, if they did not know how to sign up online, or how to navigate a board meeting they were attending in person.

      • My understanding is that the Board took the liberty of playing the messages of more underrepresented community members for the voicemails that were played instead of in-person public comment during the pandemic. If they did that, which conveniently tipped the CDD commentary far more “pro,” it seems like they should have done it for the in-person meeting as well.

        Thank you for your research, perspective, and the many links throughout. I appreciate it.

  8. Ummmm, Michael DUEÑES is not a white dude. He’s a Chicano with 20+ years of leadership in multiculturalism, racial disparities, and equity in education. Our district has been largely dismissive of the needs of immigrant families and they have not had representation nor a voice on the board. Yes it’s a good vote.

  9. I really appreciate you putting together this post, Naomi. Not sure who I’m voting for yet, but I really appreciate that you’ve made learning more about the candidates much easier.

  10. Thank you so much for your work in preparing these posts. They are so helpful in making voting decisions, especially in the lesser-publicized local races. Before I discovered your thoughtful and objective analyses, I used to skip over park board candidates, etc. on my ballot because I was afraid of making an uninformed choice. Do you have a Patron account or accept donations? Your work is a valuable public service!

    • I usually run some sort of fundraiser for a local organization but have been too busy this year to come up with anything (maybe in the general). You can also buy my books! Glad you find the posts useful. 🙂

  11. This helped a lot in informing my vote. I was able to do my own research as well, but this solidified what my thoughts were on some of the candidates! Thank you!

  12. Thank you so much, especially for watching all those Youtube videos. I can’t really absorb information from that format either; and I very much appreciate your doing it. I just filled out my ballot, grinding my teeth but grateful as ever for being so much better informed than I would generally manage by myself. P.

  13. This is my first time reading your info, and I appreciate your work. I usually skip the school district ballot or just vote for the incumbent, but this post helped me, thanks!

  14. Thanks Naomi, more information from people who make the effort like this is helpful as more information for people to make up their own minds!

  15. I too, hate Youtube videos. But I recently installed a car stereo with the assistance of a couple, so I guess they ain’t all bad. That’s the first time I’ve ever successfully done that! Heh. Anyway, thank you, and I’ll be voting for Michael Dueñes and crossing my fingers.

  16. Your post on the school board primary was way more helpful than news articles I’ve read. Thank you for citing great sources and also trying to show more than 1 side to most of the candidates (except the accountant and Covid-denier, whose campaigns seem like a joke)

    Cheers!

    • It is not accurate that the CDD eliminated k-8s. They centralized them, so that all citywide children could attend them, versus making them neighborhood based, primarily white schools they are now. Regarding the vote in a pandemic… Governing needs to happen. The CDD discussions started well before Covid. Plenty of consequential votes have happened at all levels of government after Covid. The state provided funding for insulin. The school board took action on ending the police contract. The state has had special sessions and passed police reform. The push to delay was simply an organizing method to those opposed. You can be against the CDD. But to say that the district didn’t provide information or engagement sessions is not accurate. In my book, the city events that have happened since covid illustrate how racially divided our city is and how critical it is we have bold leaders who are willing to stand up for equity.

  17. “…because our ability to actually pick a thing and stick with it and make it work is nonexistent, apparently.”

    Ding ding ding!

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