Months of campaigning lie ahead for this year’s crop of Board of Education candidates, a group of eight vying for the four seats that come open in November.
Up for grabs this fall are seats in districts 2, 4 and 6 — all on the west side of Minneapolis — plus one of the board’s three at-large seats. There are two candidates in each race (although there’s at least one write-in citywide campaign in the works, by Christopher Clark, who said his filing affidavit was disqualified on a technicality).
When the election is over, the nine-member School Board will have at least one new face and as many as four.
If not quite make-or-break, the DFL endorsement has proven to be a very important credential in Minneapolis School Board races. This year, the endorsements went to Kim Ellison (citywide), KerryJo Felder (District 2), Bob Walser (District 4) and Ira Jourdain (District 6). The four say they see eye-to-eye on the issues and are running as a team.
Incumbent School Board members Josh Reimnitz (District 4) and Tracine Asberry (District 6) both said they’d abide by the endorsement process, but each later decided the stakes were too high to drop out. Frequent School Board candidate Doug Mann (citywide) has the support of the Green Party.
What follows is a brief introduction to each candidate appearing on this fall’s ballot. For more information on the backgrounds and specific policy positions, refer to the candidates’ websites.
Caprini, a stay-at-home parent and the mother of two MPS students, said she was drawn into MPS politics several years ago when a plan to boost enrollment shifted school attendance boundaries across the district.
That turned her into a regular at School Board meetings and a highly active school volunteer. Caprini has held seats on a variety of school site councils, both as a parent and as a member of the Northside Schools Collective, a community group that works to improve North Minneapolis schools. She’s also volunteered on PTAs and PTOs.
Caprini said her site council experiences taught her the fundamentals of board work. A key priority, if elected, would be to shift the board away from micromanagement and instead focus its attention on its sole employee: the superintendent.
She’s also an advocate for greater board engagement. That engagement pays off in a deeper understanding of the district’s disparities, which Caprini, a self-described “data junkie,” said she committed to eliminating.
KerryJo Felder (DFL-endorsed)
Felder said she’s running to represent District 2 because “change isn’t coming fast enough for our students on the North Side.”
An MPS parent and graduate of the North High School Summatech program, Felder was an outspoken advocate for the school when the district proposed to shutter it in 2010. She now works as a community and education organizer with the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.
Felder said would focus an “equity lens” on her work as a School Board member. She has advocated for greater staff diversity and “full-service community schools” that can support students with a variety of needs.
“I want to make sure those structures are in place, because I was once that poor student, myself,” she said.
A regular at School Board meetings, Felder said five years plus of watching the board work has prepared her to join it.
Josh Reimnitz (incumbent)
Unlike this year’s other candidates and most of his colleagues on the board, Reimnitz doesn’t have children in the district and, as a Bismarck, N.D., native, never attended MPS himself.
But the first-term incumbent said he’s forged a connection with the district though his three-plus years of board service and the time he’s spent visiting schools and interacting with MPS students. And he’s running for re-election to keep a focus on students and “proactively capture student voice” on the School Board, he said.
Reimnitz is co-executive director of Students Today Leaders Forever, a student leadership nonprofit. As the School Board’s Policy Committee chair, Reimnitz has been crafting a new policy structure he said would allow the board to focus on governance and for the superintendent and his team to concentrate on running the district.
Reimnitz had pledged to abide by the DFL endorsement but is running without it, he said, to give voters a choice on the ballot. He also saw the district at a pivot point, and said he wanted to support the new superintendent.
Bob Walser (DFL-endorsed)
Walser, an MPS parent and the husband to a Kenwood teacher, is making his first run for public office.
Walser said he’s running because he’s “passionate about student-centered education.” The efforts of the district’s highly skilled teachers and front-line staff are hampered, he said, by “a management style that does not listen to the voices of children.”
If elected, Walser said he and the rest of the slate of DFL-endorsed candidates would bring “better, smoother operations” to a School Board that “is not generally perceived right now of working well together.”
Walser describes himself as a “self-employed ethnomusicologist and folklorist,” meaning he performs music, researches music (specifically sea shanties and sailor songs) and has been an artist-in-residence in schools across the country. He has previously served on the boards of the Tapestry Folkdance Center and the Cedar Cultural Center, and Walser said that experience would help him hit the ground running if he joins the School Board.
Tracine Asberry (incumbent)
Tracine Asberry is running for re-election to her District 6 School Board seat because the district is at a pivotal time and needs her “proven leadership.”
That’s despite the fact that the DFL endorsement, which she pledged to abide by, went to her opponent. Asberry said the decision to run anyway wasn’t made lightly, but she couldn’t just leave the district at a time when there is a new superintendent and “momentum to turn things around.”
A former district teacher and executive director of St. Paul Youth Services since September 2014, Asberry has emphasized transparency and racial equity in her time on the board. She said she is “oftentimes the only voice speaking on certain issues,” and was inspired to run again by the strong support from neighbors, students and district staff members. If re-elected, Asberry said she would continue to focus on academic rigor, relationships and racial equity.
Asberry has three children, including an MPS graduate, a sophomore at Washburn and a preschooler in the High Five program at Windom.
Ira Jourdain (DFL-endorsed)
This is Jourdain’s second run for School Board after an attempt to win a citywide seat in 2014. Jourdain said his platform is much the same as it was two years ago.
He supports strong community schools, equitable funding of schools and improved district communication. MPS needs to do a better job of highlighting what works in the district and focusing its resources on what doesn’t, Jourdain said.
He has also expressed support for the district to provide “wrap-around services” that address the issues students face outside of schools.
Jourdain is a parent of four children, including an 18-year-old who just graduated from South High School. His two youngest attend Bancroft.
Jourdain, who has a background in human services but now works has an insurance field underwriter, has served on various school site councils and volunteered with PTAs. He also served on the committee that produced the landmark 2006 memorandum of agreement between MPS and the American Indian community.
Kim Ellison (incumbent, DFL-endorsed)
Ellison, a former alternative school teacher who is now the vice chair of the School Board, is seeking a second full term on the board in a slightly different role.
Ellison was appointed to the board in 2012, filling a vacancy left by the resignation of Lydia Lee. She won election to the District 2 seat in 2012, but decided to run this time as a citywide candidate — a pathway cleared when veteran School Board Member Carla Bates declined to run for re-election.
Ellison said she wants another four years in office to continue work on closing the achievement gap, but added she’s also grown more interested in how the district designs the pathways students follow from kindergarten to high school. She’d like to see access to ethnic studies courses expanded and have those courses count as a social studies credit, not just an elective.
All four of Ellison’s children attended MPS. She said she enjoys helping constituents navigate the school system, taking a hands-on approach to problem solving when she can.
Doug Mann (Green Party-endorsed)
This is Mann’s 10th run for School Board since 1999, and his message — inspired by his experience as a Minneapolis parent — has been remarkably consistent over that time.
Mann has called for the district to improve its teacher retention rates, arguing non-white students in high-poverty schools are the most likely to sit in classes with new and less-experienced teachers. He has long railed against “watered-down curriculum tracks,” which he links to grouping students by ability.
Mann said he pulled his son out of a Minneapolis elementary school when he was tracked into a “low-ability” group. That son later returned to the district and graduated from South High School.
Currently unemployed, Mann has worked as a licensed practical nurse, professional driver and as a school paraprofessional in the Edina and Richfield districts. His duties as a paraprofessional included working with students with emotional and behavioral disorders, and Mann supports efforts to limit the segregation of EBD students from the general student population.