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Candidates in three suburban school districts who hoped to take opposition to racial equity policies and steer their school boards in a new conservative direction came up well short Tuesday.

None of the seven board hopefuls running in multicandidate slates in Wayzata and White Bear Lake won.

In south Washington County, Eric Tessmer, a parent and police officer, was the lone candidate among four conservatives running on a "common sense" platform to capture a seat. The other three seats went to candidates endorsed by the local teachers union.

Voters turned away the challengers despite outside influencers like former Minnesota congressional candidate Kendall Qualls. In recent presentations in Woodbury and Plymouth, Qualls and his wife, Sheila, associated social and emotional learning, ethnic studies and culturally responsive teaching to critical race theory.

Katie Schwartz, who won re-election in south Washington County stressing the need for students to feel safe and included, said: "I am proud to continue serving in a community that shares these values and can see behind the special interest groups that tried to invade the district. We need to remain nonpartisan and keep party politics out of our school board."

Critical race theory is an academic concept outside state curriculum standards that critics say divides students by identifying white people as privileged and people of color as oppressed. But candidates seeking seats in Wayzata, South Washington County and Bloomington who were asked recently could not cite instances in which such a lesson was taught in their district's classrooms.

Two of the candidates — Natalie Marose in Bloomington and Matt Audette in the Anoka-Hennepin district — were endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC, a New York-based group opposed to the teaching of critical race theory. Marose failed to win one of four seats, but Audette easily defeated his opponent in a bid to represent Anoka-Hennepin's District 4.

While no candidate running as part of the Wayzata and White Bear Lake conservative slates prevailed Tuesday, two of the challengers — Nick DeVries in Wayzata and Bill Mahre in White Bear Lake — came within 317 votes and 84 votes, respectively, of securing seats, according to unofficial returns.

Wayzata incumbent Sarah Johansen, who took issue with outside forces attempting to sway the election there, topped that district's vote-getters.

Stillwater has been roiled of late by people opposed to masks and critical race theory, many of whom were part of a Vote No campaign seeking to take down an operating levy proposal on Tuesday's ballot. But Vote Yes cruised to victory.

Shakopee, which had been the only metro area district without a voter-approved operating levy, found success, too. Two ballot questions passed easily.

The first will generate about $7.5 million annually over 10 years and allow the district to rehire 43 teachers, reduce class sizes and restore programs like fifth-grade band.

The second question, which was contingent upon approval of the first, will bring in $3.5 million per year for 10 years to reduce class sizes, increase fine arts offerings and provide raises for teachers and support staff.

"I'm incredibly appreciative of our community," Superintendent Mike Redmond said Wednesday. "It's a big win for our students."

Staff writer Erin Adler contributed to this report.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109