Election 2017: City Races in Minneapolis and St. Paul

I really need to get going on election blogging, but I have a novel that’s due in November, and I wanted to get a first draft done before I dived into this.

The draft is done! Done-ish. (I need to do a first pass before I send it to beta readers.) It is a YA novel based on my short story Cat Pictures Please, to be published by Tor YA. Anyway, I’ll be getting to this soon, and I took a peek at the city ballots to see just what I was in for.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have city races this year. St. Paul’s mayor, Chris Coleman, is not running again, so it’s an open seat. Minneapolis’s mayor, Betsy Hodges, is completing her first term and a number of people are dissatisfied with her, so she’s viewed as vulnerable. Minneapolis also has races for Park Board, City Council, and There are also races for Park Board, City Council, and Board of Estimate and Taxation. (That one’s not a competitive race; if I’m reading it right, there are two seats up for election, and exactly two people running for those seats, both of them incumbents.) In St. Paul, there’s also a School Board race.

Last time, Minneapolis had thirty-five candidates running for Mayor. In the intervening four years, they raised the cost of filing to run from $20 to $500, which has significantly cut down on the number of people doing it — it’s now only 16, so a little under half the number who ran last time. Of those 16, there are 5 or 6 with a reasonable shot at actually winning; 2-3 more who are treating their own candidacy seriously even if no one else is; and a couple of weirdos. I’m really curious whether David John Wilson of the Rainbows Butterflies Unicorns party is John Charles Wilson the Laurist Communist but with a new name and political party? His website isn’t loading for me.

There are three people running for City Council in my old ward; not sure about other wards, and I need an address to plug in to get the Secretary of State site to cough up a sample ballot.

Nine people are running for three Park Board At Large seats. There’s also three people running for the District 5 Park Board Seat. (Again, I’ll need to go hunting for the info on who’s running in the other districts.)

Minneapolis residents can rank three candidates in each race.

In St. Paul, we have ten people running for mayor. There are three I’d describe as front-runners, a couple more who are serious candidates, and one person who I think gets messages from space aliens through her dental fillings. We also have six people running for three School Board seats. In St. Paul, we get to rank up to six candidates for mayor. We get to vote for three school board candidates (because there are three open seats) but we don’t get to rank them, because the method of choosing school board candidates is determined by the State Legislature. (Don’t you envy the people who get to hand over ballots and explain that to people? If you do, you can sign up to do it! They are ALWAYS looking for election judges.)

Anyway! I will be back to start work on this soon. If you live in Minneapolis and want to be sure I cover your City Council race and/or your Park Board race, please leave an address in your precinct in my comments so I can plug that in to the SoS site. (And if you want to just pull up your own sample ballot, you can get it here: http://myballotmn.sos.state.mn.us. This site will also tell you where you go to vote.)

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Election 2016: St. Paul School Board

St. Paul is holding a Special Election for school board member at-large. This is to replace member Jean O’Connell, who resigned in protest after Superintendent Valeria Silva was fired. (The board appointed an interim person back in August, but Cedrick Baker is not running.)

On the ballot:

Eduardo Barrera
Tony Klehr
Cindy Kerr
Greg Copeland
Jeanelle Foster

Eduardo Barrera

Eduardo Barrera is an executive director at CLUES, a nonprofit that provides services and referrals to the Latino community. An article about the start times of St. Paul’s high schools mentioned him: “Eduardo Barrera, a parent of two elementary students who also sits on the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation board, said he had read up on the science before joining the steering committee. But, he said, like fellow committee members, he tries to keep an open mind.” (They didn’t end up moving start times later but it’s still under consideration.)

(Here’s the thing about later high school start times: they will improve learning outcomes, improve your graduation rate, lower teen pregnancy rates, and cut the death rate because of fewer people hit by sleepy teenage drivers. It is the winniest win/win of all win/wins, except for sports coaches, who like those early afternoon hours for practices.)

His website is pretty minimalist and includes the following platform: “Eliminate the persistent disparity in educational attainment; include voices of parents, teachers, and staff who support our children; ensure collaboration for the benefit of the district; increase enrollment levels and decrease classroom size; make every resident of Saint Paul proud of our public schools.”

That is the most boilerplate generic school board platform I think I’ve ever seen, and I’ve sat through quite a few DFL endorsing conventions so I’ve heard a lot of generic boilerplate delivered out loud, fists raised, with cheering volunteers holding signs as backdrop.

That is really telling me less than nothing about what you will do with your seat.

He also tried for the interim position but not hard enough to show up on the day the school board made the selection (he had a meeting) and he didn’t try for DFL endorsement. He also didn’t turn in a website when he filled out his paperwork so there’s no link on the Secretary of State candidates list; I did find him when I googled, but it’s pretty far down the page. I’m a little dubious that he actually wants the job. Oh, there’s also no way to contact him from his campaign website. Hmm. Yeah. I’m increasingly skeptical. Next!

Tony Klehr

Okay, here’s what I was able to find out about Tony Klehr. He’s a teacher in the Stillwater Public Schools (a “Credit Recovery Teacher, Generalist,” which I’m guessing means he  works with students who’ve failed classes to make up the credits.) In the comments of a pissy Joe Soucheray column about the St. Paul school board, someone named Fred endorsed Tony and said he was a Republican. According to Tony’s mostly-private Facebook page, he graduated from Woodbury Senior High in 2004, and the U of M Duluth in 2010; also, it looks like he went to China in 2006, and it looks like it was with a student group. He has a selfie on the Great Wall that is captioned, “taken moments before i threw up all over the great wall. they may have a booming economy, but we have struck at the heart of their national diginity.”

Next!

Cindy Kerr

So, this is new: a GoFundMe page as a campaign website.

Cindy has two kids, both adopted from foster care. She pulled her son out of SPPS last year after what sounds like a very frustrating experience with the IEP process. When adopting from foster care, she had to take a bunch of training on fetal alcohol syndrome and other special needs; she clearly sees the lack of similar training in the Saint Paul Public Schools.

Other info I found: via LinkedIn, she’s a an “Engagement Manager” for a company called ClickSoft, and her employer and her job description are so absolutely saturated with buzzwords I have no earthly idea what she does. She’s on Twitter, but appears to use it mostly for her job. I also found her filing form. She also lives ridiculously close to me, like I could go knock on her door right now and ask her some questions. (She doesn’t have her campaign e-mail address on her GoFundMe but anyone who reads this and wants to follow up with her can try votecindykerr@gmail.com.)

My thoughts here: it sounds like she has some personal experience in a very specific area that would be useful, but it’s a really narrow experience, specific to her children. That’s where most of us start, actually, but for school board I like to see people who’ve got some broader experience, either via working or volunteering. It’s also clear that political campaigns are an opaque black box to her — a GoFundMe page is better than no website at all but she’s gotten exactly one donor since putting it up.

Cindy, if you’re reading this, I would encourage you to join the St. Paul Special Education Advisory Council. Volunteer for the campaign of a politician you like (maybe not this season, when you’re campaigning yourself, but next year or the year after). Attend your DFL precinct caucus and become a delegate to the City Convention. You’ll have the opportunity to see how campaigns work and if this is something you’d like to pursue, you’ll have a better base of knowledge (and connections) to go forward.

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland is a loud Republican, a perennial candidate, and the former extremely incompetent Maplewood city manager. He ran for school board two years ago, partly on the platform of firing Silva, and has not updated his website since Silva was fired. He’d like to see ward-based school board representation, like Minneapolis has — I tend to think this is a good idea, FWIW.

On his Biography page, he talks about how  every student should have an IEP created in consultation with parents, teachers, and guidance counselors. IEPs right now are created for special needs students and spell out goals and services. I’ve been through this process: it’s time-consuming. Doing this for every student would require a whole new layer of school bureaucracy. Of course, elsewhere he says that more money should go to teaching, and not to bureaucracy. To be fair, he doesn’t seem to consider guidance counselors to be the bureaucracy; he notes that the American School Counselor Association suggests that schools employ one guidance counselor for every 250 students, and the St. Paul schools have 435:1. (It’s not that I’m opposed to guidance counselors in the schools but asking the American School Counselor Association how many guidance counselors a school needs seems a little like asking a cosmetology school whether it’s really necessary to license hairdressers. This guy is solidly Republican so why guidance counselors, specifically, are the one form of non-teacher bureaucracy he thinks are awesome is something I’m kind of curious about.)

Anyway, it sounds ot me like his vision of the every-student-gets-an-IEP is that the process is less intensive than the current IEP process used for special needs students, but more intensive than parent-teacher conferences. He wants teachers, parents, and guidance counselors to set academic goals and address gaps with tutoring and other interventions. You know what, fundamentally I think this is a pretty good idea but it would cost a lot of money, and eliminating “failed, costly Silva era programs such as those operated by the Pacific Education Group” is going to round up relative pocket change. (He also suggests the technology levy funds be redirected. I am skeptical that this would work. On one hand, they’re spending money on iPads maintenance and so on but on the other hand, there are other things they were able to not spend money on like printed copies of a whole bunch of textbooks. I’m not saying that the iPads weren’t a stupid use of money — I’m saying, at this point, dumping them won’t save you much.) He then goes on to say in bold face font that no new funds or property tax levies will be required, because of course he does, he’s a Republican. This is bullshit.

I mean, okay. He says there are currently 85 counselors, and this is 1:435 and he wants 1:250 so let’s say we’re going to hire 75. That might be do-able with the money we’d otherwise be spending on stuff like PEC, maybe, but here’s the thing: the 1:250 is assuming the normal set of Guidance Counselor tasks. If you’re going to say that every student in St. Paul now gets an IEP, you’re going to need a lot more. If you’re going to say that students who’ve fallen behind will get tutoring or other interventions, you’re also going to need to hire an army of reading and math specialists who will do that tutoring. (They actually have a bunch of these people now, but that’s part of where some of that money that’s not going to classroom teachers and guidance counselors is going to.)

He says he wants to spend the maximum amount possible in the classroom, and says that he’d start budget cuts with the central administration, followed by an examination of School Support Services budget and the District-Wide Support Services budget.

So okay, the School Support Services budget is where you pay for those reading and math specialists who do the tutoring that kids needs to bring them up to speed. I imagine this is also where they pay for behavior specialists who deal with the kids who unruly and seriously disruptive, so that the teachers can teach rather than spending long periods of time dealing with kids who are being disruptive. The district-wide support services is where you get the people who go from school to school providing OT or PT or other services that a small number of students need. Do you want every child to be able to write and thus take the MCAs? Some students need OT and PT in order to be able to hold a pencil and make words on a page.

I mean, I could be making the wrong assumptions about how the money is allocated and who pays for what.

When I look back at our (frustrating) experiences in Minneapolis, there were absolutely staff members that I don’t know what the hell they did all day. In some cases they were definitely doing stuff, it just didn’t seem to bear any real relationship to what their job title suggested they might be doing. And I seriously don’t know what some of the central people were doing: not calling my kid’s teacher back ever, would be what one of them did all day, as far as I could tell. But there are also the people who test all the 3 and 4-year-olds for Kindergarten Readiness; there are the people who manage the central food services and the central transportation services. There are people who run community education, who investigate civil rights complaints, who help families who are experiencing homelessness, who make sure everyone’s checks get auto-deposited on schedule. Sure, some of the people in these offices are undoubtedy useless, lazy assholes like the person who never called my kid’s teacher back ever. Others are doing super useful work. I do not remotely trust Greg Copeland to be able to tell the difference.

On his main page he has a blog where he suggests that we should institute middle-school testing to sort all our kids into college-bound and vocational tracks, complains about “transgenders” using the bathroom, and advocates for vouchers.

Anyway, this guy is not my candidate.

Jeanelle Foster

Jeanelle (“Jeanie”) Foster was endorsed by the DFL at a tiny City Convention held a few months ago. (I got a phone call about it, I think even from Jeanie’s campaign, but was out of town that day.) According to her biography, she is a former teen mother who pulled herself out of poverty using the power of education and went on to become a teacher, then work at the Wilder Child Development Center to help struggling families get their kids through the system. Now she works as a Head Start administrator.

Her platform is another absolutely boilerplate set of goals: “Bring staff together and improve relationships with administration; Keep children and equity at the center of our decision-making and help the system to be more responsive; Increase parent and family engagement so kids and families can better navigate the system to find success.” Her background at least suggests she has experience with these specific things. (Increasing parent and family engagement was a component of her job at Wilder, I think.)

She’s my pick, and I’ll admit it’s heavily for her past experience. I have friends who went to college as single mothers, and they’re all frankly pretty amazing. The fact that she got a Master’s degree (!!!) after having a child at 16 shows that she’s someone who can work really hard and who knows to an intimate degree the transformational power of education.

If (like Greg) you’re suspicious enough of the central offices that you’d be hesitant enough to vote for anyone who’s worked there, I guess in that case I’d go for Eduardo Barrera. He’s been heavily engaged with the public schools in the past as a parent and citizen. I’m going to say that Tony Klehr is a flake, and Cindy Kerr is well-meaning but too inexperienced to jump into this particular job. Greg Copeland is the GOP equivalent of the socialists who want to fund things with gold pooped out by magical unicorns. (The GOP version of this is when you’re convinced that you can just check the trash cans for all the gold people are mindlessly throwing away because cut waste is the answer to everything, and the possibility that St. Paul spends a lot of money because it gets a lot of kids whose needs are more extreme than, say, Wayzata does, has not occurred to him.)

 

 

 

Election 2015: Endorsements

These are only for St. Paul, because as far as I was able to determine, there are no elections in Minneapolis tomorrow.

The St. Paul City Council seats are voted on with Instant Runoff/Ranked Choice, which means you can rank your top preferences. I didn’t find any races that I thought were likely to be competitive beyond two people, though. The school board is a “pick four” race, but it’s not ranked choice, so you just vote for the four candidates you like the most and can’t rank them.

The race I feel the most fundamentally undecided about, not surprisingly, is Ward Two (the open seat). I like both Rebecca Noecker and Darren Tobolt quite a bit. Rebecca e-mailed me back about police body cameras (she’s for them) and Darren didn’t, so I’m going with Rebecca, but if you read my analysis of them and decided on Darren, I’m happy to have been of service.

FIRST WARD
Dai Thao

SECOND WARD
1. Rebecca Noecker
2. Darren Tobolt

THIRD WARD
Chris Tolbert (uncontested)

FOURTH WARD
Russ Stark

FIFTH WARD
Amy Brendemoen

SIXTH WARD
Dan Bostrom

SEVENTH WARD
Jane Prince (uncontested)

SCHOOL BOARD
Mary Vanderwert
Zuki Ellis
Steve Marchese
Jon Schumacher

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow, and one of my friends was very startled to find out last week that her polling place had moved, so it’s probably not a bad idea to check yours right now. The polling place finder is here: http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/ and you can also see your sample ballot.

I guess next up is the 2016 Presidential Race. Minnesota doesn’t have a presidential primary, but caucuses, on Super Tuesday (March 1, 2016). I’ve been figuring I just won’t even worry about it until after New Hampshire and Iowa, frankly. I need to catch up on some fiction writing (by the way, I had two stories published today, “Cleanout” in the new issue of F&SF and “So Much Cooking” which you can read online at Clarkesworld!) and think about what I would buy this year if I were gift-shopping for someone I deeply disliked.

Election 2015: Incumbent school board member Keith Hardy

So the last candidate of the bunch is Keith Hardy.

Part of why I’ve been struggling with these writeups so much this year is that voting for Keith Hardy doesn’t feel like just voting for Keith Hardy but for Valeria Silva and all the stuff the current board has done in the past four years, good or bad. This extremely sympathetic and pro-Silva article agrees that this election is a referendum on Silva, adding, “the unhappy voices can’t be neatly dismissed as entitled parents impatient with calls for equity,” while still giving it a distinct spin of, “gosh, there are a lot of entitled parents impatient with calls for equity!” This article also talks about the Pacific Education Group contract, something that’s been muttered about a lot but not talked about explicitly enough that I got into it much in my previous writeups. PEG does training for educators on white privilege, and they charge a lot for it. Even Rashad Turner the BLM activist hints that maybe he thinks it’s a stupid waste of money, and the teachers I talked to sighed heavily and said that it’s not that they were complaining about learning about white privilege but it just was not terribly useful training, that there were some much cheaper, locally-sourced trainings they had that tackled the issue on a much more pragmatic level. (And in fact, some of this gets discussed in the article.) The article ends by quoting Silva as saying, “This racial-equity work made me uncomfortable, and that’s how I knew I was doing the right work. I often operate outside my comfort zone. I choose to go to the ‘race place’ and stay there.”

So….down in the comments (it’s MinnPost, so the comments are readable and worthwhile), people bring up all the Silva horror stories. “Silva decided, halfway through the 2012/2013 school year that students should not be individually disciplined in ways that led to the collection of data about student discipline,” says a commentor who makes the case that the reduction in racial disparities in discipline is not because they improved disparities but because Silva’s approach meant that data just wasn’t collected. “Silva was arrogant and contemptuous of a large body of parents at our school, which is ethnically mixed,” adds another commenter. “At events surrounding this move, we also witnessed her threatening teachers who asked questions–asked questions!–suggesting they would be fired unless they shut up. … When we went to Ramsey for IEP meetings, we would see students literally swinging from ceiling steam pipes in the hallway outside the office, or playing eroticized hide and seek in the office itself, with no staff member calling them on unsafe or inappropriate behavior. Once, our horrified observations coincided with the district scolding Ramsey parents for complaining vocally. Rather than fix the problems the administration threaten to remove a behavioral specialist if enough students weren’t enrolled that year–and this would be the fault of parents striving to improve the school. This management style is distinctly Silva’s.”

A dissenting commenter says, “Those with the loudest voices such as Joe Nathan and the so-called ‘Caucus for Change’ led by the Saint Paul Teachers Union are those actually fighting change and want to go back to the old ways that mostly just served the most advantaged students and families and veteran set in their ways employees in the Saint Paul Public Schools. The current board had the courage to try address equity and implement meaningful systemic changes in the way things are done in the Saint Paul Schools. They are now experiencing an enormous amount of pushback by those who have a vested interest in keeping the existing systems in place.”

Just how bad are things? Well, they’re bad enough that Ramsey Middle School lost nine teachers in a few months; school critic Joe Nathan (he runs a group called the Center for School Change, which appears to be pro-charter-school but not pro-corporate-for-profit-charters, for what it’s worth. I couldn’t fully suss out the politics of the place when I checked out their website but they did not reek of conservatism like some school reform groups) says that of the 12,000 kids who’ve been pulled from the St. Paul Public Schools in the last few years, 2/3 are children of color or from poor families. That’s less impressive given that only 25% of the kids in the district are white — if 1/3 of the kids being pulled out of SPPS are from the white families not getting free or reduced price lunches, they are dramatically overrepresented. Although that’s hardly surprising since these families not only have that well-established sense of entitlement, but also the resources to find a different school for their kid and send them there.

Steering back toward Keith Hardy, the most recent controversial decision made by the current board involved their board meetings. SPPS board meetings are recorded and the video put online and broadcast on local cable access. (You can find them on the board web site, if you’re curious.) For years, these meetings included a period of public comment, which was recorded and broadcast/archived with the rest of the meeting. Earlier this fall, they moved the public comment period to a half hour prior to the official start of the meeting, and stopped recording/broadcasting it.

They did have a series of justifications for this move. Board Member Anne Carroll (who was up for election this year, but stepped aside after not getting endorsed) said, “What happens in that 30 minutes with two or zero or five people gets a huge amount of play in the press,” and people tended to ignore the fact that they also got comments by e-mail and phone and in other settings, so not recording the comment period would make public input to the board “substantially more transparent, substantially more accurate in terms of reflecting the plethora of public comments that we get.” Which … you know, “more transparent” when you’re taking away information seems profoundly disingenuous to me. “More representative,” I mean, okay, although there are ways to make at least the e-mail contacts more high-profile. (At the charter school my kids attend, there’s a “board packet” sent out to all parents that includes the letters sent to the board.) But saying this will make things more transparent? Uhhhhhhhhh.

Hardy, meanwhile, said that eliminating the recording of the public comment period would “decenter whiteness” by encouraging a more diverse group of commenters to come forward. Is there any evidence anywhere that being recorded discourages people of color from speaking up? The Star Tribune reporter checked the recordings: “I reviewed a number of the archived webcasts from this year, expecting to see public comment sessions dominated by rants, insults and cursing. Instead, most of the speakers were parents, staff and students who brought up real issues. Complaints about overcrowded classrooms and cuts to an elementary school music program. Recognition of a high-achieving high school robotics team. Support for a gender inclusion policy.” He also noted the regular presence of one particularly obnoxious commenter, an anti-gay bigot named Bob Zick, and speculated that the real purpose of eliminating the recording of the comment period was to get rid of that one guy (Hardy denied it was an anti-Zick policy).

Another point was raised in the comments of that article, by someone who asked, “Where is the open-ended comment period in the St. Paul City Council? The Minneapolis City Council? The Ramsey County Board? Might there be a reason these bodies have decided not to allow such an open comment period at all? Why did the Minneapolis Public Schools do away with televising their open comment many years ago? The bottom line is that in instituting this policy change, the St. Paul School Board is more closely aligning itself with its nearest government peers.” (This commenter also noted that a comment period is by its very nature going to be dominated by people with a lot of relative power: people who have the time and transportation to get to the meeting, confidence in their English language ability and speaking skills, etc. And they are correct.)

Fundamentally, though, this was an autocratic decision to embrace less transparency, and it’s really hard not to see this as, “it’s annoying enough that we have to listen to you people criticize us; we sure as hell don’t have to archive those criticisms or broadcast them on cable access.” Especially given the incredible disingenuousness of statements like the claim that it will be “substantially more transparent” not to record or broadcast something… yeah.

There was an editorial by all four of the DFL-endorsed candidates published in August in response to this decision in which they advocated for transparency, clarity (of goals), respect (for “the families who send their children to school every day and the educators and staff who work with them”), accountability (the goals should be visible and easy to find), and achievement. Keith responded in another editorial, saying, “I found that the five principles make sense. Except for one thing. They make almost no mention of the children we are educating. We can talk all we want about transparency, clarity, respect, accountability, and achievement. However, it won’t make a bit of difference if we forget what we are here to do: educate students to be contributing members of our community.”

Which was kind of exactly my frustration with the DFL-endorsed candidates, right there.

But at the same time — let’s go back to that list of frustrations that the DFL party faithful brought to the City Convention last spring. In a single year, Silva and the school board moved all the 6th graders in the city into middle school; mainstreamed wholesale nearly all the kids who’d been in separate classes, without any preparation or training or adequate staffing or looking at the IEPs of the individual kids; mainstreamed wholesale a ton of kids who’d been in separate ELL classes; implemented a bunch of new disciplinary procedures in a way that was so confusing that there are huge numbers of parents, teachers, and administrators who still do not know what the disciplinary policy is; and rolled out iPads. (And I think I’m forgetting some stuff.) Also Silva apparently shouts at parents and threatens teachers if they criticize her or even ask her questions publicly and the school board ignores parent and community input.

I mean, I think that all the candidates would agree that the central goal here is educating kids. The DFL-endorsed candidates align strongly with the goals the current board says it was pursuing: their complaint is mostly with how the goals were pursued and how the district was managed, so it makes sense that their “this is how we’re different” is not “well, unlike our opponents, we actually CARE about EDUCATING CHILDREN” but rather, “hey, we’re going to embrace transparency, we’ll actually tell you what our goals are so as to hopefully avoid incidents where we DID in fact have a goal, but when someone brings that up at a meeting, we loudly assert that this goal never existed, and we will accept accountability for succeeding or failing at our goals.”

In my Facebook-based live-blogging about the endorsing convention last spring, I wrote, “We’re tired of our children falling through the cracks!” says a Keith Hardy supporter who just reminded us he’s running for a 3rd term.

Yeah. People are really tired of it. I think that might be the source of the entire throw-the-bums-out approach this year. Because chaotic classrooms, badly planned rollouts (either of technology or new policies), and teachers so miserable that you lose nine in one month from one school: that hurts all the kids. The privileged families are going to be loudest about it, because they have that sort of bone-deep middle class entitlement that tells them that their voices matter. But what they’re complaining about isn’t, “we’re getting a smaller slice of the pie.” They’re saying, “this pie is ENTIRELY FUCKED.” They’re saying, “GUYS, we want there to be a pie, and instead you threw a bunch of things into a pie plate and shoved it into the oven for a while. Now I have a crescent wrench and a handful of Lego bricks on my plate, and putting a scoop of ice cream on top DID NOT TURN THOSE THINGS INTO FOOD.” Inedible metaphorical pie doesn’t feed anyone, but it is 10x worse to get inedible metaphorical pie if you don’t have parents with the skills and equipment to bake you nourishing metaphorical pies at home.

Anyway. I am strongly inclined to vote for the four DFL-endorsed candidates this year.

Election 2015: Write-In School Board Candidate Rashad Turner

So I’ll start by saying that in this situation, I think it’s entirely legitimate to hold it against Rashad Turner that he didn’t file in time to get on the ballot. If something had changed drastically during the race due to a death, a major scandal, whatever, and he jumped in — fine. But that’s not what happened. His answer to “why aren’t you on the ballot?” is “I was encouraged and decided to run for school board after the filing deadline. I missed it by a couple of days.” Although, I have in fact voted for a write-in candidate who jumped into the race because he disliked the person who was running (John Scalzi, when he ran for SFWA president in 2007) but I do think “oh good grief, if you couldn’t decide you wanted to do this in time to file, you don’t deserve the job” is a reasonable attitude.

He’s running a lot more seriously than some of the other candidates, though — he has a website, he has endorsements (from the Green Party), he can take donations and he’s recruiting volunteers.

Rashad is best known for being the most visible organizer of Black Lives Matter of St. Paul. Which means I need to start with a sidebar about BLM generally and BLM-St. Paul. When I talk about BLM over on Facebook, for the most part I’ve just reposted things that other people have said. I’m white, I’m solidly privileged on the issue of cops and how they treat civilians (when was the last time you saw a video of a cop beating the crap out of a nonresisting middle aged white lady?) and I think that solidarity from white people on this issue is entirely called for but making white voices predominant is really not.

But just to be clear about this from the get-go, I think that Black Lives Matter is an ENTIRELY legitimate movement. I am horrified by the fact that black men and women are routinely battered, abused, threatened, and murdered with complete impunity by people to whom we’ve handed over a shit ton of authority and not bothered to check up on. And I’ll note that fixing policing to protect black people is a great example of what I think of as societal Universal Design. Universal Design is an approach to building design where things are made accessible to disabled people but also just better for everyone. If you’ve ever pressed a “door open” button with your butt to get through a door with your hands full, you have benefited from universal design. But if you start with the people who will have the hardest time getting through a door, you can usually guarantee that everyone will be able to get through that door. If we start by protecting the people who are most vulnerable to police abuses, it’s going to get better for everyone. (Well, everyone who is not a power-tripping abusive asshole with a badge. But I’m good with that!)

All that said, I am not convinced that Rashad Turner would be a terrific person to have on the school board.

Rashad Turner

So my first concern is that being an activist and a politician are very, very different. There’s an excellent article about Rashad here, which says that Gov. Mark Dayton had “suggested BLM activists would be more effective if they proposed specific, constructive changes. But Turner said it should not fall to his group to create a list of demands. ‘I don’t feel like it’s our responsibility to focus on something that we didn’t create, as far as policy and legislation,’ Turner said. ‘These people know what the problems are, they know what policies are creating these disparities, these are elected officials.'” From an activist, this is a perfectly reasonable stance. Once you are an elected official you’re suddenly in the position of needing to make those sorts of lists, and craft solutions. With a group of people who may or may not agree with your priorities.

Looking at his web site, there’s stuff I like, stuff I’m super unimpressed by, and — hilariously — stuff that makes me think he should be the candidate of choice for the St. Paul Republicans (but probably won’t be, because so many Republicans have a knee-jerk authoritarian attitude toward BLM. Although a lot of the city Republicans lean libertarian so who even knows?)

From his front page: “I want students to be the primary focus of every decision made in our district — and not the adults — because we as adults should be able to adapt to, and meet the needs of, each and every student we serve.” It sounds like he shares my concerns about the adult-centric focus of the DFL-endorsed candidates.

“I want to keep our district from spending ridiculous amounts of money on things like iPads and other technology that goes unused by our students.” — So, okay. On one hand, I am totally with him on this but on the other hand, for all that the rollout was a complete mess, the iPads are totally being used! The students, from what I can tell, really like them. Admittedly, some of them like them because they make it so easy to play games during their boring classes. It’s not at all accurate to say they’re not being used, though, from what I have heard from the parents, teachers, and students I know in the district.

“I want to make sure we are spending those dollars on what will directly impact our students’ educational experience, like supplies for the classroom so teachers don’t have to spend what little they’re paid to buy supplies for the classroom, and hiring faculty who are truly committed to each and every student — whose ideas and beliefs reflect the demographics of our student body, and demonstrate a mindset that every student can grow, no matter the challenges and barriers that student might face.”

What he’s talking about here is that the teaching corps of the St. Paul schools is much, much whiter than the student body. I would absolutely love to know what Rashad thinks of Aaron Benner, the black St. Paul teacher who got shouldered out and who goes on at length about discipline given that Rashad finishes with, “It’s time to start helping our kids believe, and stop trying to make them behave.” (I have some deeply mixed feelings about that slogan and I’m going to come back to it at some point.)

His Issues page is framed as a Q&A and starts with a question about Superintendent Silva. He says he wants to hold her accountable without making it very clear what that means, and then adds, “I will make sure that Superintendent Silva makes the necessary changes to the Racial Equity Plan so that it is inclusive of ALL students and doesn’t emphasise diversity as simply a black and white issue.” This is an excellent point: people have this tendency to frame diversity in the schools as a black/white thing but there is a HUGE population of Hmong kids in the St. Paul schools and also a lot of Latino kids. With their own sets of distinctive needs and struggles and all the rest. A commenter on an article that ran back in the spring said that Hmong, Karen, and Somali immigrant children suffer the most in seriously disorderly schools, and he may very well be right.

His answers to questions about mainstreaming special needs and ELL kids makes me think he’s not super well versed in what the issues are here — especially his ELL answer. “When you think about the fact that a high percentage of our ELL students speak their native language at home, it is our duty to immerse them into our culture both socially and academically.” — I am raising my eyebrow at that, is he calling for active and deliberate assimilation? “An ELL student who speaks their native language at home and is forced to be isolated when they come to school, is an ELL student that we have failed as a district.” — I’m not sure where he thinks the failure point is here. “ELL students who enter the district at ages where the research shows it is more difficult to acquire a new language should have experiential learning opportunities in addition to being mainstreamed.” — There’s a term used in the St. Paul schools for students who arrive as teens with a dearth of formal education. These kids are often very eager to get a diploma but may not be able to in time, just because there is so much to make up. (Imagine if you had literally never been to school in your life, and you arrive at 16 with no literacy in any language and you have to learn to speak English, to read and write English, and to do something resembling a high school curriculum before you age out at 21. At least one of the DFL-endorsed candidates was advocating for extending these kids’ eligibility for free public education up to age 23. But, there are a lot of good arguments for providing these kids with their own learning environment, and he doesn’t really address it, he just talks about how you should mainstream them because they’re human.)

He thinks the iPads were a waste of money: “Another reason is that even if each and every student had in their possession one of these iPads, it would send the district into bankruptcy trying to pay for repairs when our students’ iPads break or need some sort of repair.” — I thought that the (excessive, IMO) ongoing cost for the iPads was in part to pay for the repairs? It’s a lot of money each year. But it’s already budgeted, it’s not a thing that would send the district into bankruptcy, they’ve allocated the money, unless this was even more stupidly implemented than I thought. (Maybe? SURELY some of the appalling recurring cost is repairs, though, they didn’t hand out iPads with assumption that parents would be able to pay for any damage that occurred, because there are a ton of parents in the St. Paul schools who absolutely could not afford to replace or repair an iPad.)

There’s a question about the disciplinary policy (“Do you support the current discipline policy, or lack thereof?”) and he responds:

I do not support the idea that there is no discipline policy in place or that the Racial Equity Plan itself is the cause of the discipline concerns at several schools in St. Paul. I believe that Superintendent Silva’s bad attitude towards students, parents, teachers, and administration is what lead to a bad climate district wide.

In the current climate there is a lot of frustration from the groups of people mentioned above towards Superintendent Silva. This frustration has been ignored by the Superintendent and current School Board members so I think the climate in addition to a poorly focused and poorly implemented Racial Equity Plan which made a lot of students feel like nobody was paying attention to them, and a lot of teachers feeling unsupported in serving our students.

So this got me to actually google up the Racial Equity policy and while I was at it, a disciplinary policy. The racial equity policy (passed in 2013) is here. The disciplinary policy is a thing you can find on their website and basically says that it’s up to principals to have disciplinary policies for their schools and by the way don’t break the law (there are some state laws about process if you’re going to expel a student.) The disciplinary policies, such as they are, were last revised in 2008, so that’s not in the “current board fuckup” category.

The racial equity policy reads to me like it was written by academically-oriented activists. “To interrupt systems that perpetuate inequities, SPPS will: A. Invite and include people from all races and ethnicities to examine issues and find adaptive solutions, which address the root causes and systems, rather than technical solutions, which provide one-time, situational fixes; B. Develop the personal, professional, and organizational skills and knowledge of its employees to enable them to address the role and presence of racism; and C. Eliminate practices that result in predictably lower academic achievement for any student racial group compared to peers.”

As an activist, Rashad does not want to lay out an agenda: “These people know what the problems are, they know what policies are creating these disparities.” As a school board candidate, though, this sort of nonspecific policy is “poorly focused.” But he

Rashad posted in my neighborhood Facebook group a week or so back (this was very controversial, and annoyingly, a lot of my neighbors are apparently totally fine with people advertising their MLM essential oils but not okay with candidates stopping by to answer questions) and someone asked him about the disciplinary policy issue: “I understand that SPPS went from far too many student suspensions to 5-minute timeouts, with pretty much no preparation or input from teachers or parents. Where do you stand on suspensions?” Rashad’s response: “I do believe we need to do much better in keeping all of our students in class and reaching their full potential. The disparities in suspensions across the district is disturbing. Students should be removed from the classroom and from school for violent offenses. However, despite the medias spin on suspensions in SPPS, most (80%) of suspensions are for non violent subjective reasons. The non violent subjective reasons for students being suspended are what we need to continue to work on and bring to an end. An example of a non violent subjective offense to remove a student from class can be found below in this video” after which he pasted in a link to the horrifying video of South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields throwing a student across the room.

Which is horrifying. But we are talking about the St. Paul schools here, and are there school resource officers who are battering and abusing students in our schools? Because if so, that needs to fucking stop, but talk about those incidents, don’t post a link to that video, because honestly it is not relevant because the issue is “should disruptive but non-violent students be suspended,” not “should disruptive but non-violent students get the crap beaten out of them.” (By the way, from everything I’ve heard, she wasn’t even being disruptive. But even if she’d been violent, nothing about Fields’ response was okay.)

Here’s what I want, in a discipline policy, okay? I’m going to be specific.

* No one should ever get an out-of-school suspension for non-violent behavior. Kids and teenagers are sometimes annoying. Deal with it. Appropriate ways to deal with non-violent misbehavior: time outs. time outs in another classroom. sending the kid to the behavior specialist’s room to calm down. Sending the kid to the principal’s office for a lecture. Missing a fun activity. Having to go to the end of the line. Demerits. Detentions. Losing one of the fun privileges usually available to their classroom/grade. Calling their parents. Bringing in the professionals to evaluate the kid to see if they have needs that are not being met, need services that they’re not getting, need intervention from the teacher to head off problems. THE LIST GOES ON. We do not need to suspend students for non-violent misbehavior. That is not what suspension is for.

* Violent behavior is a different matter, although let’s take a deep breath and not round up every last bit of physical misbehavior to “violence,” because if my white, middle-class daughter did not get an out-of-school suspension for hitting a boy in the face with her soft-sided lunch box when he cut in line in front of her, neither should anyone’s black son or daughter for that same offense. (She did get an in-school suspension for the remainder of the day for that. The only reason she got in trouble was that the custodian came around the corner at exactly the right moment to see her whomp him. More on that in a minute, maybe.) But as a basic principle, if a teacher gets hit, kicked, bitten, scratched, or shoved by one of their students, at minimum, they should not have to deal with that student again for the rest of the day. They should be able to send that kid off with the behavior specialist and get the rest of the day off from that particular miscreant, if they want. (Even if this is a kindergartner. This stuff looks really different if you’re picturing a tiny little kid vs. a high schooler, but that one of the fundamental problems here is that when the kid is black, they are a HELL of a lot more likely to get treated like a violent high schooler even if they’re THREE.) Violence is grounds for suspension. Violence that happens repeatedly is grounds for expulsion, or for moving you somewhere better suited to your unique needs.

* Students have a right to feel safe in school.

* Calm, reasonably orderly spaces in schools benefit everyone.

But let’s talk about Molly again. Molly had a really bad second grade year. She hit, kicked, shoved, punched, and on one occasion bit her classmates. She had an in-school suspension, an out-of-school suspension, an eval… things improved when I stopped letting her eat anything with red dye in it, when we found out about the daily bullying on the bus and took care of it, and when one severely disruptive student in her room was moved to another school. But her behavior problems didn’t fully resolve until we moved her to another school, in fourth grade, at which point … they vanished. Because now, she was in a calm and orderly environment where the adults were enforcing the rules, so she no longer felt like she needed to use violence just to protect herself.

I’m going to bring up one final detail I read about Rashad in one of the articles about him: he had a domestic violence arrest.

Based on my personal observations, both as a parent and years ago as a student, one generalization I would make is that in a really disorderly school environment, it is the girls who suffer the most. They are more likely to check out rather than disrupt, which means that they get none of the concern and care and attention that disruptive kids get at least some of the time — they’re not creating problems, so they are left to their own devices. They are also more likely to be physically in danger. In an anarchistic school environment, the girls are more likely to get physically assaulted and intimidated.

The black girls, of course, get it coming and going. They suffer extra from the disorderly environment but the people who are allegedly supposed to provide order are not people they can trust either, and I’m not going to link to that video but probably you’re all picturing it in your heads right now anyway. She’s hardly a unique case. Black girls nationwide are suspended six times as often as white girls (it’s a 3:1 ratio with black boys and white boys) and are excluded from a lot of the efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline.

But saying “we need to stop worrying about whether our kids behave” seems like a surrender to the forces of anarchy, and I particularly distrust that attitude coming from a man who has been arrested for domestic violence. We need a fair and equitable environment. We need to make goddamn sure that we’re not disciplining the black kids more harshly than the white kids for the same offenses. We need to have a sense of proportion about ordinary teenage misbehavior, like cell phones in class, or gum, or all the 8 million other things that are only a problem because they are teenagers and we feel like we need to be in charge. (Have you ever worried about someone flipping you out of your chair and throwing you across the room because you checked your cell phone during a meeting? No? How about for chewing gum?) We need to provide a safe environment for our kids — they need to be safe from the small number of violent and aggressive other kids, and from adults who shouldn’t be working with children if they can’t cope with garden-variety annoying kid behavior.

One more point on Rashad’s policy ideas. Asked about budgets, he says: “I’m the type of person who goes shopping with about every coupon from the Sunday paper in my cart, which illustrates the fact that I love to and have to save money. I don’t feel that we need to continue to ask for more money from you, the taxpayer, because like myself you are probably also looking for the best coupons available in the Sunday paper. Instead, we need to manage our districts money more effectively. When elected, I want to go line by line through the budget and eliminate any dollars being spent that do not have a direct impact on our students’ educational experience and opportunities. I want to make sure that our budget is prioritized on what’s best for students, and not spending money on big corporations to come in a not produce any results for our students.” — I’m very curious which corporations he’s talking about here, whether it’s Apple and the iPads, or if this is a reference to Minneapolis’s stupid expenditure on that godawful reading curriculum, or if he’s complaining about PEG. (PEG = Pacific Education Group, a consulting group that came in to do training on racism and privilege.)

But, you know — seriously, Republicans, maybe you should vote for this guy! I did not see a single DFLer say that they were going to go line by line through the district budget to look for the waste they could cut! For that matter, I didn’t see the lone Republican say that, either, since he has no website or campaign materials that I could find!

I would actually really be in favor of this approach. The big districts, Minneapolis and St. Paul, actually have more money per student than most other districts in the state, and they also have the largest class sizes. And yeah, they have more ELL students and other stuff they need to deal with but they also have bloated and pointless bureaucracies and the boards hate cutting them. Some of those people in the administration do super important and valuable stuff and some of them do jack all. Figuring out which ones are which is the tricky part, but if someone’s eager to tackle the job…

There are too many red flags here, though, from really not knowing that much about some of the pressing issues to the discipline stuff. I am not going to vote for him.

As a final note: you are welcome to post comments about whether Rashad would be good or bad on the St. Paul school board. We’re not going to have a conversation about the basic legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement. We’re also not going to get into BLM-St. Paul’s tactics in general. I realize that there is some overlap here, but if I think you’re not making a good-faith effort to stay on topic I will delete your comments.

Elections 2015: St. Paul School Board, DFL-Endorsed Candidates

I have been putting this off and putting this off and then I realized today that the election is in less than a week and I do in fact need to make a decision about who I’m going to vote for in it.

The four DFL-Endorsed candidates are Steve Marchese, Mary Vanderwert, Jon Schumacher, and Zuki Ellis.

Steve Marchese

Steve is a lawyer who emphasizes his blue-collar upbringing in his bio. (“Steve is the son of a union truck driver and was the first in his family to go to college. He graduated from Yale University with a B.A degree in history and earned his law degree from New York University.”) I appreciate that sort of background, although it’s no guarantee that you’re plugged in to current concerns. In recent years he’s served as Pro Bono Development Director for Minnesota State Bar Association, so yay for that, and earlier in his career he represented parents in both Special Ed and desegregation cases.

The thing that sort of concerns me on his web page is the extent to which he centers parents and teachers. Instead of, you know, students. “[The current approach] leaves the people who live every day together – teachers, parents, school principals, and support staff – with little influence over what happens in their own buildings.” Where are the students in that list? “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.” And … students? Do they get some input as experts on themselves? Maybe my attitude here is because I’m coming at this from the POV of a parent of a high school student, but Steve is also the parent of a high school student (a 9th grader at Central) and ought to be aware that high schoolers are quite opinionated. They are definitely “stakeholders,” to use the jargon from another page, where he says, “Parents, teachers, staff and community members all have a stake in the St. Paul Public Schools. However, too often, district leadership makes decisions without substantive input from stakeholders.” Seriously, why are students not mentioned there?

I mean, I’m not saying we should embrace the model where students get to vote on whether or not there should be a math class, but the complete failure to mention students in this context is just weird to me. I’m trying to decide whether it would have seemed as weird back when Molly was in third grade (she’s now in tenth). I feel like even then I would have recognized that she was a central stakeholder in her own education, even if I didn’t let her make certain major decisions. I did solicit her input on stuff, and use it to make the decisions for her, because fundamentally, my children’s education is not about me.

Other than that, most of what he says is fairly generic. From his issues page:

An Independent School Board
School board members are elected by the residents of St. Paul to represent the community’s interest in and ownership of the school district. The duty of a school board member, first and foremost, is to set a vision for the district consistent with the community’s needs and to hire a superintendent who will enact that vision. Superintendents may come and go, but the ultimate responsibility for having a school district that is meeting the needs of St. Paul’s children rests with the school board.

So…this is all pretty basic, and nowhere does he outline his vision or talk about what he thinks they should do about the current superintendent.

Engaging all Stakeholders
Parents, teachers, staff and community members all have a stake in the St. Paul Public Schools. However, too often, district leadership makes decisions without substantive input from stakeholders. Sometimes, parents and teachers learn of major changes, such as the recent decisions to mainstream certain special education and ELL students, after the fact. We need district leadership committed to transparency and open input as part of all major decisions.

That’s a little more substantive, and echoes one of the big, big objections to the current school board. Many decisions have been rolled out as a fait accompli, with minimal input from anyone (and while I still object to the absence of students from the list of stakeholders, I will grant you that consulting with parents and teachers would be a significant improvement even if they continued to ignore student input.)

Excellence with Equity for all Students
Our school board and administrative leadership should be committed to bringing excellence with equity for all students in the district. This means going beyond the district’s racial equity public relations campaign and making concrete policy and resource decisions consistent with increasing student outcomes, such as increasing staffing and reducing class sizes, addressing concentrations of race and poverty within district schools, and leveraging community resources as part of an overall strategic effort to reduce educational disparities. Every family should be able to believe their children can receive a top-notch education in a St. Paul school regardless of location.

This all sounds good in a rather generic sort of way. (You’d be hard pressed to find a school board candidate who’s not in favor of smaller class sizes.)

There’s a bit more specific information on the Caucus for Change website, on the questionnaire he filled out for them. He gives some long, thoughtful answers that show some deep understanding of the issues. For instance, they asked him about testing and how he will make sure there is less of it, and after agreeing that there’s too much he pointed out that a lot of this comes from state mandates: “As a board member, I would still need to ensure the district is in compliance with state mandates and standards regarding testing. In addition, I believe we still need to have regular measurements of student progress to determine whether students are meeting learning goals. We still need to document how well different student populations are learning in our schools so that we can target resources and offer relevant instruction.” (Like everyone else, I loathe testing. But … I mean … if we want to hold administrators and the school board accountable for outcomes, we need some sort of measurement tool for knowing what the outcomes were. That’s what testing is. It’s a terrible tool in so many ways, but so are all the other options.)

In a question about racial equity in the district, he talks about getting more focused and pragmatic, and also says, “I believe we also need to look at models of successful schools around the country with high enrollments of students of color and students in poverty. What are the practices that are being used and how can we adapt them for use within the district? Can we start with pilots in each attendance zone to experiment with different school configurations that give principals and teaching staff more flexibility and the opportunity to use different pedagogies? Finally, I would push district administrations to access and incorporate the knowledge of community members, in particular, members of communities of color, in the development of programs and strategies.” I like this.

Mary Vanderwert

Mary is a former Head Start Teacher and a single mother whose kids are now grown. Her personal biography notes, “Time and resources were very scarce in our household; my children had only me and the school. I had no choice but to trust that the schools would provide them with the education they needed.” The schools did an excellent job, given that her kids graduated from St. Olaf and Macalester and have successfully launched into adulthood. Mary moved on from Head Start teaching to become the Director of Childcare for the Wilder Foundation, and later worked on a number of state committees for early learning. Her community service resume includes a long-term fundraising project to support homeless families, and a lot of other work around homelessness, plus she worked as a Guardian ad Litem for a decade.

At the end of her bio she says, “I decided to run for school board because my entire career has prepared me to serve the community in this role.” And you know, honestly? Yes. I would be hard-pressed to hand-craft a more compelling set of experience for a school board member. The fact that she entered the job market as a displaced housewife who needed to support three young children and wound up managing 32 staff members and a $3 million budget? That suggests someone who is incredibly competent.

On her Issues and Actions page she lists three top priorities: parent engagement, supporting student physical and mental health, and supporting teachers in building relationships and professional development. It’s interesting that student achievement isn’t on the list, but then, the way they measure student achievement is largely through testing, which there’s already way too much of, and those three priorities all support student achievement in ways other than “we’ll just make them sit at a desk for more of the day.” Supporting teachers in building relationships is a really interesting one — I’ve seen teachers succeed or fail in part based on the relationships they form at their school, and a school is a really complicated place to form relationships, since for much of the day the teacher is the only adult in the room.

In her Caucus for Change questionnaire she addresses testing and says, “While we need a way to determine a child’s progress, I don’t believe that testing measures the kind of progress we are most interested in promoting. I would support parents who opt out and would advocate for selecting a way of determining a child’s progress that is appropriate for the age of the child, is conducted daily and is used to determine the direction of the curriculum. There are a number of tools that gather data in the form of a sample of a students work, observations by teachers and interviews with parents. The data should be used to direct the curriculum in each classroom with periodic reports to leadership to determine the extra supports needed in classrooms.” As someone who had a teacher refuse to send home one of those two-seconds-to-fill-out daily behavior assessments because she just did not have time, I am skeptical of the entire concept of daily assessment. Also, observations by teachers are subject to tremendous amounts of bias — as flawed as testing is, there was that article that went around a few months back about the city that tested all kids for giftedness and how this dramatically increased the number of black kids identified for their gifted program. It’s not like I’m a huge fan of testing as it stands, though, so.

Jon Schumacher

I’ve got to say, Jon’s website is kind of content-free, other than a long list of supporters (that has Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s name at the very top). His splash page has a quote from him saying, “I have 23 years of experience in our schools as a parent, volunteer and executive director of a community foundation supporting the arts and innovative learning solutions. I know every single member of our school community wants the same thing: for our children to be loved, supported and on a successful pathway. They deserve it, our future depends on it and we can do it — we’re St. Paul.” And then he has a campaign slogan, basically: “Jon Schumacher: Bringing people together for our kids and our schools.”

The “Meet Jon” section also mentions the community foundation and says that he’s a “writer, producer and performer of corporate communications and media.” I was curious about the community foundation so I looked him up on LinkedIn. He’s the executive director (and sole employee) of the Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation, which raises money and awards grants. (There’s an article about it here.) This is a small, quirky, not-terribly-high-budget organization. Other than that, I guess he works as a consultant.

He’s also got a statement, which includes, “It’s time to take an honest look at what is and isn’t working in our schools so we can develop successful strategies for our important goals of racial equity, inclusive classrooms and achievement. We can start by listening to our teachers, parents and staff to better understand how to unlock the potential in all of our students.” Like Steve, he wants to listen to teachers, parents, and staff to find out what’s working for students but … not so much with talking to the students. Is this really that radical an idea?

There was actually a youth forum last week but frankly the reporter covering it doesn’t seem to really take the kids particularly seriously, either, nor does he give Jon or Steve’s answer to the question about why students were expected to respect teachers who don’t respect them. (“It breaks my heart that you have to ask that question, D.J.,” was Mary Vanderwert’s response, which I thought was a pretty reasonable answer.)

You would think that since the Caucus for Change questionnaire asks a lot of really specific questions, that, we’d get more specific answers out of him there. But after reading it over I still don’t really know what specific things he’d like to do on the board. In answer to the question about racial equity, he says, “The intersectionality of racism and poverty is an issue that needs to be addressed in partnership with our public and private institutions,” which sounds to me like he knows intersectionality is an important word but isn’t entirely sure what it means. In his statement on the role of the board, he says, “Our district needs first and foremost a clear and detailed prioritized blueprint for success for all of our students. Secondly, it needs a well thought out and actionable implementation process.” And yet there is nothing anywhere about what specifics he’d put in the blueprint. Sooooo yeah.

I don’t know what I think of this guy.

Zuki Ellis

When I went to the City Convention back in April, I wound up supporting Zuki Ellis in part because of the passionate volunteer of hers I talked to. I wish I could remember the full story, but part of why she got into the race was that there was some program at her kids’ school that was slated to be cut, and she organized a fundraiser to pay for it so they could keep it, and after encouraging her to do the fundraiser, the district cut the program anyway and used the funds for something else. I don’t remember the details, though.

She’s a current parent of relatively young kids (her youngest is a first grader) and the only candidate on the DFL slate who’s not white. (She’s black.)

Her site includes some solid specifics about what she thinks should be done differently: “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.” There are additional specifics on the Caucus for Change questionnaire, including a passionate rejection of the term “stakeholder” (too corporate) and advocacy for racial equity to start by talking to people in the community.

Overall, I would say I like Mary, Zuki, and Steve quite a bit. I’m less enthusiastic about Jon, but may ultimately vote for him.

Part of my struggle in terms of just getting a grip on this race is that the four DFL-endorsed candidates have been running as a unit and encouraging people to think of them as a unit. I’ve seen few (if any) individual signs: they want you to put up a sign with all four candidates on it.

In fact, this may be sort of a party response to some of what happened in Minneapolis last year, where a DFL-endorsed candidate (Iris Altamirano?) went to a fundraiser for Don Samuels (who was not DFL-endorsed, and Iris was supposed to be supporting Rebecca Gagnon, the other DFL-endorsed candidate). I would not be surprised if somewhere in the process they all pledged to support whoever the endorsed candidates were, especially if they were also endorsed. (I was actually at the city convention, where these pledges would’ve been made, but the acoustics in that room were horrible, I was seated near the back, and I missed large amounts of what was said from the microphones, despite them regularly scolding us to “be respectful” and refrain from side conversations, which — FYI, DFL Arrangements Committee — NEVER WORKS EVER.)

But it makes it that much harder to properly think about and write about the race. In part because I really don’t WANT to elect four people who are going to march in party-approved lock-step. I want people who will bring their individual ideas and priorities to thinking about the problems of the district. I mean, sure, there are certainly areas where I want to see SPPS follow the liberal party line, but there are a whole lot of issues that schools have to deal with that are not obviously partisan.

There was a campaigner from Caucus for Change (a Minneapolis teacher who had been sent out door-knocking on behalf of the St. Paul endorsed candidates) who door-kocked me a few weeks back to talk up the four endorsed candidates. I told him I would probably vote for three of them, but was undecided on whether to vote for all four, or for three plus Keith Hardy. His pitch against Keith Hardy was that the School Board has seven people on it, with four seats up for vote, and if Keith Hardy is elected, the Old Guard will still control a majority of seats. The implication, of course, is that the old board voted as a block and would continue to do so — I find that startling as hell, because back when the Minneapolis City Council was dominated by people I deeply disliked, there were huge fracture lines and people who were the “good guys” on the council who we didn’t want to get rid of. How is it even possible that there’s no one on the board that the CfC considers a potential ally for their candidates? Were all their controversial votes unanimous?

Ed pointed out that if we vote for the DFL-endorsed candidates, then we’re handing full control of the school board to the Caucus for Change. To revisit this point — I am generally pro-union but I think it’s important to remember that the priority of the teacher’s union is to represent the interests of teachers. Those overlap heavily with the interests of students but there are areas where they conflict, and when those come before the board, I do not want the union voice to be the only one at the table. Is that what I’m going to get, with four Caucus for Change candidates? Maybe not. I mean, the overall approach with using CfC instead of doing straight-up union endorsement was that they screened everyone and gave most of the non-incumbents vying for DFL endorsement a general stamp of approval, and then said they would say “yes, them” to whomever the DFL endorsed. And for all that I feel like the CfC has presented itself in a deceptive way, it’s also the most hands-off approach to union endorsement I could have ever asked for.

Anyway, I’m going to write about Keith Hardy (the incumbent) and Rashad Turner (running as a write-in candidate) and then possibly I’ll have more thoughts on the race overall. If anyone who adores Jon Schumacher wants to make a pitch for him, by all means feel free, either in comments or by e-mail. (My e-mail address is my first and last name, at gmail. Basically if you were to take a stab in the dark based on the fact that I do all my pre-election research with Google, you won’t go wrong.)

Election 2015: St. Paul School Board candidates you don’t have to worry about

In an attempt to impose some organization on this process, I’m going to do a relatively quick post on the candidates I’m not seriously considering voting for, with some information on why. To recap, there are nine candidates on the ballot and four seats. There are four DFL-endorsed candidates and one incumbent who’s running without endorsement. That leaves four remaining candidates, none of whom are really all that viable: Scott Raskiewicz, Linda Freeman, Greg Copeland, and Aaron Anthony Benner.

Scott Raskiewicz

Scott finds e-mail, texting, and Internet interactions “dehumanizing” and on his web page (which, to his credit, he did set up) says that if anyone wants to talk to him, they need to make contact “via the humanizing and democrating means of the United States Post Office.”

Have the St. Paul schools put too much emphasis on shiny, shiny technology? I have $8 million worth of annual iPad costs that says yes. Am I interested in electing a candidate who insists that I need to go buy a stamp in order to ask him basic questions? NO. I do kind of wonder where he found an answering service (which you can use for “urgent matters” but he wants to scold you about how “with foresight — a key to education – few things become urgent”) here in 2015, but not enough to write him a letter asking about it.

He does say that if he’s elected he’s resigned to spending some time reading e-mail, though he doesn’t actually commit to answering it. Other information about him: he has a book out called “Economic Democracy: Ending the Corporate Domination of our Lives.” (I found no reviews of it.) He spent seventeen years as a substitute teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools and has also been a “tennis teaching professional.”

Anyway, anyone who demands postal mail when running for office is a flake.

Linda Freeman

Linda is a teacher running for school board and is organized enough to have t-shirts, yard signs, and brochures that have been translated into Hmong and Karen.

What she doesn’t seem to have: a website with her positions in English.

On her personal FB page I did find this statement:

“Getting my platform out there! Hope to create a dialogue.
Linda Freeman is ready to serve a dynamic school district!
a district that attracts families to programs they want for their children
a district that’s preparing to develop world-class early childhood education
a district that hires and retains highly educated teachers and support staff
a district that assures that ipads don’t become behavior management
a district that listens regularly to the people working closely with children
a district that uses best practices to close the acheivement gap
a district that welcomes and meets all children and families where they’re at
a district that expects desegregation
a district that understands how to guide children to
their full potential, joyful community, self discipline and peace”

But, as noted, it’s on her personal FB page so no one can reply to it unless they’re her FB friend (or possibly a friend-of-a-friend), making it hard to “create a dialogue.” She does have a FB group for her campaign, and her bio is up there, but absolutely nothing substantive. Seriously, she has pictures up of the Hmong and Karen brochures but she hasn’t put the English text up anywhere.

I’ve concluded she’s a flake. It’s possible that she has a real website somewhere and accidently included the code that keeps Google from indexing it — that’s surprisingly common — so I left a comment on one of her FB photos asking about this and we’ll see if she replies.

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland is a Republican and perennial candidate who was once a jaw-droppingly incompetent city manager for Maplewood. I would not even recommend voting for him if you’re a Republican. (If you’re a Republican, you probably want to vote for the endored DFLers, while weeping into your tea. I mean, the current board hired the Pacific Education Group, and while plenty of DFLers are skeptical of PEG, Republicans really loathe it.)

Aaron Anthony Benner

Benner is “outspoken St. Paul Teacher Aaron Benner” — he’s a black man and a youngish teacher who worked for a while at a school in the Rondo neighborhood. He’s so outspoken he actually appeared on The O’Reilly Factor to talk about how awful things were. (That’s a strike against him, but on doing a lot of reading about him, I would say that this is a man who is really passionately frustrated by the low expectations of black students and willing to ally with conservatives to bring attention to what he sees as incredibly urgent problems.)

The reason why Brenner’s in this post and not with the candidates I might vote for: he’s not actually running anymore. He likes his new job at a charter school quite a lot, enough that he doesn’t want to take the time either to campaign or to serve.

So, no longer a candidate, but his take on SPPS is still interesting in a hair-raising way. In addition to stories of constantly disruptive and even violent kids, he talks about open retaliation from the district. They couldn’t fire him (he was tenured) but they fired his teaching aide with no warning despite previously stellar reviews.

There is also a write-in candidate, Rashad Turner. I’m going to tackle him with the real candidates because despite not actually getting his act together in time to be on the ballot, he’s at least got a website, positions, a donations link, etc.