Minneapolis voters will decide between five at-large School Board candidates in the Aug. 14 primary.
Voters can select up to two of the candidates, with the top four vote-getters advancing to the general election. The top two candidates in the general election will join the board starting in January.
The Minneapolis School Board is responsible for governing and managing the approximately 36,000-student district, which has over 5,000 staff and an operating budget around $600 million. The board hires a superintendent, sets district policies and approves the budgets, strategic plan, graduation requirements, union contracts and more.
This past year, for example, the board approved $33 million in budget cuts as Superintendent Ed Graff began work to right-size the district after years of stagnating government funding, overspending and increasing costs. Graff and his team are working on structural changes to further stabilize the district, which they plan to present to the board this year.
The Minnesota School Boards Association lists over half a dozen qualities that it says makes an outstanding board member. Those include being collaborative, trusted and able to function as part of a team, being a strong communicator who is willing to listen and being motivated by the best interests of all students.
Minneapolis has nine School Board members, six elected from districts and three serving at-large. Up to two candidates can be on the general-election ballot for each seat in districts that hold a primary, such as Minneapolis.
Voters in districts 1, 3 and 5, all on the eastern half of Minneapolis, will elect board members in November. Incumbents Jenny Arneson, Siad Ali and Nelson Inz are each unopposed in their bids for re-election to those seats.
MPS parents Kimberly Caprini, Sharon El-Amin and Rebecca Gagnon, former district teacher Josh Pauly and perennial candidate Doug Mann are running for the two at-large seats. Here is a look at those candidates, listed by alphabetical order.
Kimberly Caprini became involved in Minneapolis schools over 12 years ago, when her oldest daughter started in the district.
Since then, she’s been involved in nearly every school on the north side at one point or another, serving on more than a dozen school and district committees and site councils.
Caprini, who works as a navigator for a Northside nonprofit, said her priorities if elected would including everything from school safety and rebuilding parent trust to providing kids with meaningful arts and athletics opportunities. She said other priorities include creating high expectations for all students, accountability of all stakeholders and fiscal responsibility.
“I see now where we are in this critical juncture that there is an opportunity to rebuild a base, to create a foundation that was as strong as it was years and years and years ago,” Caprini said.
The daughter of a public-school teacher, Caprini worked for years in the service industry after finishing high school. She said her involvement with district-wide issues started when the district began work on a five-year plan to determine attendance and boundary lines. She eventually became one of several co-founders of the North- side Schools Collective, which worked to support North Minneapolis schools and learn more about their needs.
Caprini has subsequently served on about five different North Minneapolis site councils and on the district-wide parent advisory council.
Caprini first ran for School Board in 2016 and lost in the District 2 race by 201 votes, despite not having the Minneapolis DFL’s endorsement. This time, she secured the DFL’s support with nearly 90 percent of the vote on the first ballot. She also secured the endorsement of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, which also endorsed Pauly.
The union wrote in an open letter that it believes Caprini and Pauly will “bring valuable experience to the board and are willing to make tough decisions in order to expand opportunity to all.”
“Kimberly, as a longtime Northside parent activist and Josh, as a former Minneapolis Public Schools teacher, will do what’s right for all of our students,” the letter said.
Caprini also has endorsements from eight of the nine current School Board members, including one of her opponents in Gagnon, and about a dozen other current elected officials.
Sharon El-Amin has always been involved in her kids’ education. But the former business owner and mother of three decided to make a run for School Board this spring because of an experience her son had in Spanish class.
El-Amin said her son’s teacher was showing the students videos that were unrelated to Spanish instead of teaching the language. She said she was disappointed in the teacher’s mentality when confronted, which was that “no parent in North (Minneapolis) cares.”
“That’s not the case in my situation,” said El-Amin, who is president of North High School’s parent organization and a member of its site council.
El-Amin said the incident brought her to think about the “systems in school that have been lost.” She talked to friends and parents in other parts of the city, who also noted experiences of their kids not being challenged in school, and she decided to seek a board seat.
El-Amin, who announced her candidacy in April, finished fourth among five candidates at the DFL convention in May, earning support from about 11 percent of delegates. But she decided to stay in the race and has been campaigning around the city.
She said her priorities are accountability, community and transparency, expressing an interest in raising the district’s curriculum standards and creating more opportunities for community engagement. She added that she’s knowledgeable when it comes to working with budgets because of her business experience and is well versed in working with diverse groups of people.
Currently, El-Amin works for the Hennepin County Sheriff ’s Office in a clerical role and serves as the social coordinator for her mosque. Two of her kids graduated from Minneapolis Public Schools and a third is an incoming senior at North.
El-Amin’s has endorsements from state Rep. Frank Hornstein and several current and former MPS employees, including North basketball coach Larry McKenzie. McKenzie, who has known El-Amin for over 20 years, said she’s an advocate for kids, adding that she communicates well with administration and staff.
McKenzie also said El-Amin has helped get North’s parent group organized and helped improve their work.
“She would be an advocate for all peoples’ kids,” McKenzie said. “That’s the type of person we need.”
A two-term board member, Rebecca Gagnon began the year as a candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives. But she transitioned to a re-election campaign for School Board in late March, after failing to secure the DFL endorsement in her house district.
Gagnon had initially said she wouldn’t seek a School Board seat in 2018, but she changed her mind when a candidate she had endorsed, Cindy Booker, dropped out of the race. She is touting her two terms of experience as critical as the district looks to overcome significant funding challenges and make structural changes.
“This conversation requires knowledge, history, experience, and a deep understanding of the complexity of education funding and the interconnectedness of our District systems, programs and operations,” Gagnon wrote on Facebook after filing for election.
Gagnon was first elected to the board in 2010 and was the top vote-getter among at-large candidates in 2014. She was board treasurer from 2013 to 2016 and chair in 2017 but lost her re-election bid this past January, with her colleagues electing Inz on a 6-3 vote.
Gagnon has defended a resolution she carried this spring to restore over $6 million in funding to middle and high schools, despite the recommendation of district leaders to leave the budget as it stood. The resolution, which passed on a 5-4 vote, required district leaders to make approximately $5 million in additional cuts to the district’s central-office budget.
Gagnon characterized the resolution as defending secondary schools from deep and devastating cuts and preserving programs that often bring kids to school. But opponents pointed out that the restored funding would benefit a portion of district schools, while all schools could suffer from the corresponding central-office cuts. Others said board members should have voiced concerns about specific cuts to the superintendent earlier in the year.
Gagnon subsequently did not receive the endorsement of the teachers union, which came out strongly against the resolution after its passage, and she finished third at the DFL endorsing convention, with 31 percent support. She had said in a teachers union questionnaire that she would abide by her political party’s endorsement but stayed in the race.
Gagnon has endorsements from board members Ira Jourdain and KerryJo Felder, and a handful of other elected officials. Jourdain
said he’s supporting Gagnon because she’s an involved parent and has experience on the board.
“She’s worked tirelessly to build bridges between different communities,” said Jourdain, who’s also supporting Caprini.
“I think her presence on the board is still warranted,” he added. “It’s still needed.”
Doug Mann has run for School Board in every election cycle since 1999 but has never been elected. He said in an interview that he keeps running because of the issue of teacher turnover.
Mann noted Minnesota’s teacher tenure act, which allows for districts to let go of probationary teachers as they see fit, within certain parameters. He said the act contributes to teacher turnover in Minneapolis, which he added has a disparate impact on students of color.
Statewide, about 15 percentage of teachers who started between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 school years left the profession after one year, according to a 2017 report from the Minnesota Department of Education. Over 36 percent of teachers who started in 2009-10 had left teaching by 2015-16, according to the report, which didn’t break down departure rates by district.
A February report from MPS says the district retained 93 percent of its teachers between 2009 and 2017, excluding retirements. The report didn’t break down retention rates by years in teaching.
Other priorities for Mann include more enrichment opportunities for students and educating special-education students in the least-restrictive environment possible. He said he’s not crazy about separating kids by ability, especially in the elementary school grades, and that teachers should be able to accommodate kids with all types of abilities.
Mann is currently working as a pharmacy technician. He has one son who graduated from Minneapolis Public Schools.
Mann was one of the plaintiffs in an educational-adequacy lawsuit the Minneapolis NAACP brought against the state in the late ’90s. He later withdrew from the suit because he did not agree with the NAACP’s goal of creating a school-choice plan.
He sought endorsement from the Green Party and Democratic Socialists of America for his election this cycle but did not receive either. He received the endorsement from the New Progressive Alliance.
Josh Pauly spent three years teaching at Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis before leaving to start a nonprofit last summer. Next year, he’s hoping to put that experience to use on the School Board.
Pauly said the board would benefit from having a member who understands the needs of students and the daily challenges that Minneapolis teachers face. The 31-year-old added that he thinks the board needs the perspective of all community members, including future parents like him.
“This is a space where I can help my community,” Pauly said in an interview earlier this year.
Pauly, a University of Minnesota graduate, spent two years teaching social studies at Sanford and a third teaching in its Achievement Via Individual Determination program. He founded his nonprofit, called PeopleSourced Policy, last summer, because of a desire to get more involved in the political process after the 2016 election.
PeopleSourced Policy aims to crowdsource public policy solutions through both online tools and in-person efforts. The organization has developed games on topics such as city planning and community budgeting that aim to engage and educate people on policy issues.
Pauly also serves as executive director of the nonprofit Books on Wings, which provides books to youth in schools with concentrated poverty, in addition to working with PeopleSourced Policy. He also founded an after-school book club and is on the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association board.
Pauly said his priorities as a board member would include community engagement, teacher-student ratios, increasing wrap-around services and reframing the dialogue around the district’s budget. He noted that Sanford, for example, had just one counselor and one social worker in a school of 900 students when he was there, adding that he wants to increase such services.
Pauly received the Minneapolis DFL’s endorsement on the first ballot at the convention in May with about 65 percent of the vote. He has endorsements from the teachers union, current board members Ali, Arneson and Inz, five City Council members and a handful of state legislators.
Arneson said she’s impressed with the commitment to equity and good governance that both Pauly and Caprini have shown, also praising them for their leadership abilities. Roosevelt High School parent Tina Pfau Gonzales said Pauly was an amazing history teacher at Sanford, adding that he was really engaged and bonded with the kids.
“He really understands what’s needed in education,” she said.