St. Paul voters elected four school board members Tuesday night, reelecting Chauntyll Allen and choosing three new representatives. Incumbent Zuki Ellis lost her reelection bid. All the winning candidates had the endorsement of the St. Paul Federation of Educators and the St. Paul DFL.
Yusef Carrillo, Carlo Franco, and Erica Valliant won election to the St. Paul school board. Carrillo, who was appointed to the board to fill a temporary vacancy in 2021, will be rejoining the board for a full elected term. Franco and Valliant will join the school board as new members. Serving on the St. Paul school board is a paid part-time job.
These winners will join Halla Henderson, Jim Vue, and Uriah Ward to complete the seven-member school board in 2024. Enrollment declines have been a perennial challenge for the school board. Over the next year, as federal COVID funds expire, the board will face major budget decisions. Incumbents Jeannie Foster and Jessica Kopp did not seek reelection, and their terms will expire at the end of the year.
Chauntyll Allen: ‘I’m just not done’
Chauntyll Allen came to the school board as a district alumna, a parent of Central High School graduates, and a longtime school staff member.
“I have a plan to shift how the district operates around Black and brown children, communications, and student outcomes,” Allen, 49, told Sahan Journal in an October interview. “In the last three years, we’ve made some amazing progress. But I’m just not done.”
Allen took office in January 2020, and her term was immediately interrupted by a global pandemic. Still, she pointed to a number of accomplishments during her first term, including steps that she sees as key to ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Those include implementing career and technical education in high schools.
Looking forward, Allen wants to focus on increasing literacy rates among young children and increasing pay for staff. She praised the district’s work to increase cultural programming for Hmong and East African communities, and hopes to help create a year-round Freedom School focused on African American students.
Allen works as the director of criminal justice policy and activism for the Wayfinder Foundation.
Yusef Carrillo: ‘I have the right heart’
Yusef Carrillo first served on the St. Paul school board when the board appointed him to fill a temporary vacancy in 2021. While he filled the role, the administration presented a plan to close five school buildings, including Wellstone Elementary. That placed Carrillo in the unusual position of having to vote on the possible closure of his family’s school. Both his children then attended Wellstone, and his wife works there as a teacher. Ultimately, the board chose to keep Wellstone open, along with two other schools that serve many immigrant families.
This fall, two years later, he ran for election and won.
“I have the right heart,” Carrillo, 42, told Sahan Journal in an October interview. He cited his experience as a district parent, as the husband of a district teacher, and as a district administrator at Oakland Unified School District in California. “I know what it takes to make change, and what it takes to change the behavior of people who are working in the district.”
Carrillo hopes to change how the district engages with families: to share some decision-making power, rather than presenting decisions as though they are “done deals.” He’d like to see the district fully build out a restorative justice program, like one he saw in Oakland schools.
Carrillo works as a product analyst in the annuities division at Securian Financial.
Carlo Franco: ‘The real piece for me is centering young people’
Carlo Franco is a fourth-generation resident of the West Side of St. Paul. He’s also a first-generation college graduate.
“I have a lot of pride in my community,” he said in an October interview. “I’m really centered around the saying ‘it takes a village,’ because I was a product of our village.”
Franco, 28, works for the city of St. Paul, coordinating outreach and recruitment for youth training and internship programs. On the school board, he helps to build a bridge between the city and the school district. That includes strengthening extracurricular opportunities to keep young people busy and engaged.
He also wants to prioritize financial empowerment, college and career readiness, and better family engagement.
“The real piece for me is centering young people in all this work,” he told Sahan Journal.
Erica Valliant: From trading securities to homelessness
Erica Valliant, a parent to four district children, comes to the school board from a wide range of life and career experiences. She’s worked for major corporations trading securities. She’s also faced homelessness after she lost her job.
That combination of experiences makes it easier for her to understand multiple perspectives, she said in an October interview.
“It makes it easier sometimes for me to meet people in the middle or ask the right question,” she said.
On the school board, she wants to advocate for kids experiencing housing instability. She also wants to see the district invest in more financial literacy and early learning programs.
Valliant works as the equity director at People Serving People, a family shelter in downtown Minneapolis.