Robbinsdale School Board Member Pam Lindberg told a Star Tribune news reporter that she's leaving her elected position because "the hate is just too much." She decided to step down recently after receiving "particularly abusive, egregious" e-mails.
Lindberg's lament helps explain new numbers from the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) that reveal an unprecedented number of school board members statewide who are resigning before their terms end. While their reasons for leaving vary, many say they no longer want to endure the nasty, hateful and sometimes threatening behavior of constituents.
That's a trend that civic-minded Minnesotans must combat. Whether they are city council members, state lawmakers or school board members, elected officials should not be fearful or anxiety-riddled about doing their jobs.
According to MSBA data, 12 to 15 of Minnesota's 2,100 or so school board members typically step down each year before their terms are up. But as of July 30 this year,52 had left their positions. Many of those departing said they had received more hostile in-person and online communication.
A year of widespread anger and anxiety over everything from COVID-related remote learning and mask-wearing to budget cuts, curriculum choices and boundary debates are driving some away from public service. Others are staying the course despite mounting pressures.
In District 622 (North St. Paul, Maplewood, Oakdale), veteran Board Member Nancy Livingston told an editorial writer that she and her colleagues have no plans to resign early. In her 20 years on the board, she said the past year and a half has been one of the most challenging periods, with hundreds of parents contacting the board about COVID-related problems. Livingston and her colleagues haven't experienced any abuse or threats.
But board members in other districts in Minnesota say they've had standing room only meetings during which constituents have thrown civility and board rules out the window to shout about their concerns, sometimes on issues the boards don't control.
The MSBA started collecting the information about early departures because it can be a budget problem for districts, spokesman Greg Abbott told an editorial writer. Under certain circumstances, districts must take on the unbudgeted expense of paying for a special election.
Abbott also worries that it will be detrimental to districts and communities if one-issue candidates run to replace board members who were better prepared to deal with a wider range of education issues.
"I think the rage has amped up and with social media, too, there is 10 times the snark," Abbott said. "Sometimes they're saying things that they wouldn't in person."
This type of ugly, mean-spirited discourse is repugnant. There's nothing wrong with being passionate about critical issues and decisions facing elected officials and their communities. But no one should be harassed or threatened.
School board members, in particular, have difficult jobs and often have to make unpopular decisions. The pandemic made their work even harder. In challenging times like these, those who dedicate themselves to public service deserve respect and support.