November’s St. Paul school board election comes at a pivotal time for the district. Facing declining enrollment, the district recently announced plans to close five schools and merge or change programming at others. One of the state’s most diverse school districts, St. Paul is reeling from the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, as well as last June’s death of Marny Xiong, the 31-year-old board chair, from the virus.
Statewide, school board members are quitting at a higher rate, including several stepping down in St. Paul. The state’s entrenched educational racial disparities only worsened through the pandemic and a year of distance learning. And while most students have now returned to in-person learning, the start of the school year has strained teachers and parents as Minnesota battles a seemingly endless fourth wave of COVID-19.
But despite the challenges, plenty of people still want to serve on the St. Paul school board. It’s a big part-time job with low pay: Board members earn $18,000 annually, the board chair earns $20,000. Still, a diverse group of parents, alumni, youth advocates, and labor organizers have stepped up to run. In this election, St. Paul voters will choose four board members: three for four-year seats and one for a two-year term in a special election.
School board candidate forums can be jargon-heavy and light on details. We asked each candidate a series of questions designed almost as a pop quiz, with an eye toward keeping answers on point and specific.
We wanted to know about their plans to reverse enrollment declines, navigate the COVID-19 crisis, and address racial inequity. Here are their responses.
Candidate Ryan Williams did not respond to multiple interview requests.