Editor’s note: This story was written in advance of the Minneapolis School Board’s August at-large primary, won by Kim Ellison and Michael Dueñes. You can read a story about Ellison and Dueñes’ general election race here.
The Southwest Journal’s 2020 voter’s guide to the general election includes stories on the three competitive races for the School Board and questionnaires with candidates running for the U.S. House and the state House and Senate. We also include a rundown of everything you’ll see on your ballot, including an explanation of the city’s two referendums. You can read our full 2020 voter’s guide here.
An eight-year School Board member faces a perennial candidate, a Wenonah neighborhood resident, a lifelong North Minneapolis resident and a former community college dean in her bid for a third elected term.
Kim Ellison was appointed to the board in January 2012 to fill a vacant citywide seat. She has since been elected twice — once to the North Minneapolis seat and once to an at-large seat.
She’s being challenged in her bid for a third term by William Awe, Lynne Crockett, Michael Dueñes and Doug Mann.
Ellison, who is endorsed by the Minneapolis DFL, was the only candidate to seek the party endorsement. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers did not endorse a candidate in this race.
Awe, who lives in the Wenonah neighborhood in South Minneapolis, does not appear to have a website or an active social media presence, and he did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. His LinkedIn account shows that he received an MBA from Benedictine University in 2016 and works as a tax specialist at the Department of Revenue.
Crockett said people have been asking her to run for the School Board at-large position for 15 years.
Heavily involved in the community for over 53 years, Crockett served as a parent liaison for North High School from 2003-13 and now volunteers for a variety of North Side advisory and community boards that oversee education, community, parks, youth violence prevention and public safety.
Crockett wrote on Facebook that she was compelled to run because distance learning has “failed” and she disagrees with the School Board’s vote on the Comprehensive District Design plan.
Another reason for her candidacy is the loss of Minneapolis Police Department officer Charles Adams at North, which she wrote was “like throwing the baby out with the water.” Adams was one of 14 school resource officers (SROs) working in the district. The board in June voted to cut ties with the MPD and end the SRO program, a decision that was criticized by students at North.
As a volunteer, Crockett said, she’s seen firsthand many parents who’ve felt disrespected and unheard by school officials for decades, she said. Grappling with language barriers, cultural differences and the achievement gap, she said, she’s seen parents driven away from her district because they feel powerless.
“The system’s the problem,” she said. “And the policies are what drives the system, so a dramatic change is needed.”
Although she often wakes up in the morning thinking she’s too old to run for office, the 75-year-old said she constantly receives requests for help and advice from community leaders, parents and students, which motivates her to keep pushing for change.
If elected to office, she wants to empower parents and make them feel more welcome and involved in their schools, hire more people of color and change policies that discriminate against students of color.
“I am the people I am trying to represent,” she said. “Teen mothers, battered women, [people in shelters], kids who get into trouble, family members who have problems with drugs, family members with problems with mental health — I’m you. I understand who you are because I’ve been there, I’ve done that.”
Dueñes, who has a doctorate in political science, was dean of liberal arts and global education at Brooklyn Park-based North Hennepin Community College through 2018. He’s currently self-employed as a policy analyst specializing in education and racial disparities, and he recently co-authored a report on higher-education disparities.
He said in an email that his top priority would be supporting students, families and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
Other priorities include implementing and funding educational-equity programs that are based on best practices, transparent and accurate budgeting and recruiting and retaining students.
Dueñes was a vocal critic of the CDD, which he said falsely claims to address the educational opportunity gap and doesn’t accurately account for the costs of building renovations and shuffling students between schools.
He said the plan lacks educational-equity programming and that the district should have done an equity audit, as required for major policy changes.
If elected, Dueñes said, he would demand an equity audit and a fiscal audit of the CDD by an outside agency. He also wants to see the district’s major stakeholders, such as the teacher’s union, principals and other communities, included in the implementation.
To address achievement gaps, Dueñes said, the district needs to implement best practices and provide dedicated funding to support them. That includes increasing student and family engagement with schools, potentially through ethnic studies courses, language-immersion programming and community partnerships.
In a Q&A with the teachers union, he said the district’s budget needs to be laid out more clearly so available resources can be more accurately determined. He also said there needs to be a districtwide discussion about how resources can be more equitably shared.
Kim Ellison (incumbent)
Ellison, a former alternative school teacher who is the board chair, said she’s seeking a third elected term because she wants to finish work around closing achievement gaps.
This year, she led passage of the CDD, which she said will help ensure schools across the city have the resources they need, in part by reducing busing costs.
“You shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to find success at school,” she said. “I believe that the [CDD] can do that for families and staff by providing the right resources where they’re needed.”
Ellison said priorities for a third term would include implementation of the plan, adding that she’ll be looking to see diverse curricula and mental health supports for students.
She also wants to introduce ethnic studies classes and increase the number of staff of color.
She said she thinks the district needs to proceed slowly when it comes to reopening buildings, adding that she would like teachers to be leading the discussion.
“I think we need to do it safely,” she said. “I don’t think that means all students and staff at schools on the first day in September.”
She also said that she’s pleased with the performance of Superintendent Ed Graff, who she said is thoughtful and listens to different communities.
In 2018 Ellison considered runs for the Hennepin County Board seat and the 5th District Congressional seat that opened when her ex-husband, Rep. Keith Ellison, decided to run for state attorney general. The couple’s divorce filings, in which Keith Ellison said Kim repeatedly hit him during their 25-year marriage, were made public that fall, after an ex-girlfriend accused Keith Ellison of abuse.
Mann is making his 12th consecutive School Board run since he first sought a seat in 1999. He also ran for City Council in 2005 and mayor in 2013.
He has never been elected and said that getting onto the School Board has not been his priority.
“My priority is to change policy,” he said.
Specifically, Mann wants to enact policies that would require the district to keep more probationary teachers — those in their first three years with the district — with the goal of reducing teacher turnover.
He does not know how many probationary teachers leave the district each year and said the district never responded to a 2018 request for data on the subject.
Mann predicted that the district would see less teacher turnover and lower special education enrollment if the district were to retain more probationary teachers.
While he said that policies haven’t changed because of his past School Board runs, he thinks he’s raised awareness about the issue of teacher turnover.
Mann said he thinks schools need to reopen for the fall without requiring students to wear masks or socially distance, adding that it was possibly a mistake to close schools in the first place.
Mann is a vocal opponent of face masks and, on his Twitter account, he has shared a link to a YouTube video, titled “Why Face Masks DON’T Work, According to SCIENCE,” featuring Ben Swann, a former TV personality who has helped spread alt-right conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate.