New candidates emerge for 2004 School Board elections

DFL incumbents mentor newcomers who could challenge them

People come up to Lydia Lee all the time and ask her if she is crazy. The Uptown resident has announced her intention of running for the Minneapolis School Board. Lee is one of the challengers seeking a place on the ballot for one of the three seats up for election this November.

Along with Lee, Peggy Flanagan a Northside resident has also thrown her hat into the ring. Both women are new to the political process, having never run for office before, but Lee, as a school district employee, is an insider while Flanagan is an outsider.

Both plan to seek the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party's endorsement, which will be awarded May 15. Two incumbents, Sharon Henry-Blythe and Dennis Schapiro, are running for reelection and plan to seek the party's nod. (The other incumbent, Ross Taylor, has already announced his intention to retire.)

What the two newcomers have in common is coaching by veteran Board members. Judy Farmer, Schapiro and Henry-Blythe have mentored the duo -- even though come November, they may be competing against each other for the job.

Schapiro, a Linden Hills resident, advertised the mentoring sessions on the Minneapolis Issues e-mail list. He said Lee and Flanagan are both smart and bring something valuable to the Board. "You don't want to get too close with people you may be running against, but you want seven good people on the board. It's more than just getting elected yourself."

Farmer, who has run successfully for the School Board six times, advised the women on their candidacy's legal requirements, how to organize a campaign, what a citywide campaign is like, how to design campaign literature, how much money is required and what one has to do to get the DFL endorsement.

Said Farmer, "Many of us were concerned about the lack of candidates of color for the School Board, so we decided to beat the bushes looking for people who might be interested in running. We found about seven people who came to meetings. Most decided that they were unable to run this time. Lydia and Peggy are the people who have stuck with it."

Lee, an Asian-American from New York City's Chinatown, met Farmer when the two shared an office together at Marcy Open School near the University of Minnesota back in the 1970s. Both were working as parent liaisons. Lee also taught math at Andersen Open School, 2727 10th Ave. S., for 10 years. She has one adult child who graduated from South High School, 3131 19th Ave. S. Currently, she works for the school district in their Middle Grades Department, a job she has held for the past three years.

"As an insider, I've seen a lot of things that don't make any sense to me, so I decided that I had to run," Lee said. "I have been in the classroom and I have worked with new teachers enough to see their struggles. Many are unprepared to teach in an urban setting. It is trial by fire, and we have such a huge turnover of these young teachers and that doesn't help kids."

While she thinks the current Board is made up of well-meaning people, she thought the process of deciding closure and mergers of the schools was handled poorly. "Everyone knew the process should have started a long time ago."

Peggy Flanagan is a single, 24-year-old with no children. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, she works for the greater Minneapolis Council of Churches as a coordinator of their Urban Immersion Service Retreat that teaches young people about poverty. As a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwa, she would, if elected, be the first Native American elected to the School Board.

Flanagan met Farmer when she was doing outreach for Native American families to help bridge the gap between home and school. Traditionally, the Native American population has not had a good relationship with public education, Flanagan said. Farmer was her connection on the School Board whenever there was a problem.

Even though the schools are in a time of crisis, Flanagan said this is a great time to run for the school board because it has the potential to bring the many people who feel shut out of the process to the table.

"People are really fired up now, and this is the best time to harness that energy in a positive way to benefit our students in Minneapolis," she said.

Election for School Board membership is a citywide contest. Flanagan and Lee have been attending the DFL Senate District conventions before the May 15 city convention at South High. Tangletown resident David Dayhoff has also announced his is running, but he will not seek the DFL's nod so he will appear first on the Sept. 14 primary ballot.

Lee can be contacted at [email protected] or phone 824-0893. For Flanagan, e-mail [email protected] or phone 799-4705. Dayhoff can be reached at [email protected]