In electing new School Board members, Minneapolis voters bucked the trend of choosing DFL-backed candidates while also reelecting an incumbent who was firm in her support of the district’s controversial Comprehensive District Design (CDD) restructuring plan.
In District 4, which includes the neighborhoods near the Chain of Lakes and Downtown, activist and community organizer Adriana Cerrillo very narrowly defeated DFL-backed Christa Mims, a Hennepin County social worker, for the seat being vacated by Bob Walser.
Voters in District 2, which covers North Minneapolis, chose longtime community member and business owner Sharon El-Amin over one-term incumbent KerryJo Felder, an opponent of the CDD who had the backing of the DFL and teachers union.
Not since 2014 had a non-DFL-endorsed candidate won a seat on the nine-member board.
In the one citywide race on the ballot, eight-year board member Kim Ellison, who received the DFL endorsement, defeated former North Hennepin Community College dean Michael Dueñes, though it was Ellison’s narrowest victory of her three elections. Ellison, who joined the board in 2012 and was voted president this past January, won 61% of 187,289 votes cast compared with 38% for Dueñes.
The race between Ellison and Dueñes can be seen as a referendum on the district’s CDD plan. Ellison defended the plan, passed in May, while Dueñes was a staunch critic.
Ellison’s support was strongest in North and Northeast Minneapolis, Downtown and in the neighborhoods immediately south of Downtown, where she more than 60% of the vote. She fared less well in South Minneapolis, particularly in Ward 13, where she won 52% of the vote and where opposition to the CDD was significant.
The plan redraws school attendance zones, converts most grades K-8 schools into
K-5 schools and moves magnet programs toward the geographic center of Minneapolis. Ellison has said the plan will provide students with more equitable magnet offerings and allow the district to provide more resources to neighborhood schools.
Ellison said she wants to reach out to families who feel disenfranchised by the CDD to hear their concerns and how they can be addressed, though she added: “You’re not going to make everybody happy all of the time.”
In District 2, the race marked a turnaround in fortunes for El-Amin, who is a member of the North High School site council and whose three kids graduated from the school. She had finished fourth in a four-way race for two open at-large seats in a 2018 bid that was marred by transphobic Facebook posts she made between 2013 and 2016 for which she has since apologized.
She attributed her victory in part to efforts to creatively get her name and message
out during the time of COVID-19, such as through phone banking and social media.
“The hardest part was letting people know that my name was on the ballot and what I was running for,” she said. “We just really tried to hit every different angle that we had.”
She said she questions why the DFL makes endorsements in the nonpartisan School Board races. “I think people are looking for individuals that they can trust and not just a selected group of leaders deciding,” she said.
In District 4, Cerrillo said her work helping families of color become involved in their schools helped her earn support. She also said endorsements from state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, a DFLer who represents parts of Richfield and Southeast Minneapolis, and former District 4 candidate Ken Shain, who finished third in a three-way primary, were influential. She beat Mims by just 312 votes out of 31,832 cast.
“Our coalition was broad and included small businesses that are a big part of what our community loves about our city,” she wrote in a text message.
Linden Hills resident Sara Freeman, who supported Cerrillo, El-Amin and Ellison, said El-Amin is a hard worker who is deeply passionate about the North Minneapolis community.
She said she has never seen a first-time candidate turn out votes in the way that Cerrillo did. “I think that’s a tribute to her deep roots in the community,” she said. She added that she thinks that Mims, whom she knows through the nonprofit Domestic Abuse Project, should run again.
On Facebook, Dueñes hinted at continued political ambitions, telling supporters that their yard signs will “come in handy in the future.”
In an interview, he said he was feeling great about his level of support despite limited resources and that he plans to continue holding listening sessions with different communities in the school district.
One-term incumbent Ira Jourdain ran unopposed and won in District 6, which covers the Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods south of Lake Street excluding ECCO.