A guide to the 2021 St. Paul mayor and school board candidates

Early voting began Sept. 17 and Election Day is Nov. 2.

Residents of Minnesota's capital city are heading to the polls this fall to elect a mayor and school board members. Incumbent Mayor Melvin Carter faces seven challengers in his bid for another four years at the city's helm after a first term that saw the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police and subsequent civil unrest. The Star Tribune asked each person running for St. Paul mayor to tell us about themselves and provide answers to the following questions:
  • Reports of violent crime in St. Paul have increased since 2020. At the same time, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked a nationwide push for police reform and alternative public safety programs. What are the most pressing public safety issues in St. Paul, and how would you address them?
  • From parks buildings to city streets, St. Paul faces a substantial backlog of infrastructure maintenance that, in many cases, has been delayed repeatedly. How would you balance these bricks-and-mortar projects with other city needs, especially considering that St. Paul is still recovering from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • With a number of major development projects planned or underway — including the former Ford plant, Hillcrest Golf Club and Boys Totem Town — St. Paul is on the brink of some rare opportunities to shape the future of the city's economy and housing market. At the same time, residents have expressed concerns about gentrification that could leave behind low-income communities and people of color. How do you plan to use city resources and policies to manage these large-scale projects, and how do you envision them changing St. Paul?
  • Should St. Paul have rent control and, if so, how should that policy work?
  • What other issues are the most pressing in the city, and what would you do about them?
Six candidates are running to fill three four-year seats on the St. Paul school board, while two others are competing in a special election to serve the remaining two years of a seat vacated by former Board Member Steve Marchese. We asked each candidate for a short bio and responses to the following questions:
  • St. Paul Public Schools settled a teachers' strike last year days before schools closed due to the pandemic. Candidates often vie for union backing. Did you support the walkout, and if so, in what way? How would you approach your role as a board member when it comes to contract negotiations?
  • The federal government is providing $207 million in American Rescue Plan funding to the school district, and board members now are signing off on a long and broad list of uses. What is missing from that plan or needs to be given higher priority?
  • The St. Paul school district continues to face enrollment declines. What would you suggest as a strategy to stem those losses?
  • English language learners make up nearly a third of the district's student population. What do you think the district is doing right in serving their needs? Where do you think it is falling short, and what would you suggest as a remedy?
  • What other issues are the most pressing in St. Paul Public Schools, and what would you do about them?
The responses below, presented in alphabetical order by candidates' last name, are lightly edited for length and clarity. All words and opinions are candidates' own.
Check out our guide to St. Paul's rent control ballot measure as well.
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Melvin Carter

Age: 42
I am the son of a retired St. Paul police officer and a former teacher who now serves as Ramsey County Board Chair. I am a fifth-generation St. Paul resident, a proud graduate of our public schools and a parent raising children in our city.
Over the past four years, our administration has been focused on engaging our community to advance a bold vision we have shaped together, while re-envisioning how local government serves our residents, workers, businesses and visitors to build a city that truly works for all of us.
Public safety
Like communities across our nation, St. Paul has not been immune to national crime trends from challenges of the last 20 months. We remain committed to realizing safer outcomes for our neighborhoods through balanced investments in emergency response and proactive strategies through our community-first public safety framework designed to address the root causes of public safety challenges in our city.
This comprehensive strategy has led to a five-year low in crime in downtown, including a 20% decrease over the past year alone. When we saw the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness during the pandemic rise to nearly 400, our community-first informed efforts led to a 90% decrease in people sheltering outdoors. While we still have work to do to realize the safer outcomes we want for all our neighborhoods, we'll continue working to build the most comprehensive, coordinated and data-driven approach to public safety our city has ever endeavored.
Budgeting and infrastructure
Investing in local infrastructure is critical for our city's future. Our administration inherited historic disinvestment, with streets on an over 200-year replacement cycle. That reality paired with rapid population growth and the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis have left our streets in disrepair. That's why over the past four years, we've expanded investments in downtown mill and overlay and sidewalks, developed the first-ever dedicated bikeway funding and redeveloped Ayd Mill Road.
Our new five-year Capital Improvement Budget strategy will leverage record-low interest rates, with an investment of more than $32.2 million over the next two years to launch capital projects at the Hamline Midway Library, the North End Community Center and Fire Station 7.
As we continue rebuilding and balancing the many needs of our community, leveraging the enormous potential of federal resources will be vital amid our ongoing infrastructure investments.
As St. Paul continues to grow in size and diversity, we are tasked with meeting big opportunities with a big vision that works for all of us. We do that by advancing accessibility, safety, equity and affordability in everything that we do. Since my first days as a City Council member, I've dedicated my work to that end, developing the ordinances that would go on to establish our Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Department in St. Paul.
In regard to housing, it's critical that we continue to leverage investments that support our residents' ability to secure stable and affordable housing, like our Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Families First Rent Supplement Program and connecting people experiencing homelessness to support, services and resources.
Our diversity is our competitive advantage for the future. It's not enough to seize on great opportunities — we have to ensure that those opportunities work for everyone.
Rent control
Ensuring everyone in our community can secure stable and affordable housing is vital to every aspiration we have for our city. Among the many strategies our city can engage in to support this vision, the prospect of developing rent stabilization for our residents is intriguing.
As our community continues to engage in conversations on the benefits and challenges of implementing such a tool, I'll continue working through my extensive due diligence to assess the many impacts rent stabilization will have on our fair and affordable housing goals, alongside our ongoing response to the housing crisis. If voters choose to support the very specific ballot measure this November, our administration will stand ready to implement it.
UPDATE: Mayor Carter said he planned to vote in support of the rent stabilization ballot measure after this article was published.
Other issues
Poverty and deep disparities that too many of our residents find themselves stuck in is the most pressing issue our city faces. That's why all of our work has been focused on giving all St. Paulites a shot at the prosperity our city has to offer.
It's why we raised the minimum wage, launched CollegeBound St. Paul to start every child born in the city with $50 in a college savings account, eliminated late fines in public libraries and tripled free programming in our rec centers.
All of this and more form a body of work in St. Paul that we achieved together over the last three years, and is vital to the success of all our residents. I'm asking for another four years as mayor to build on the work we've done, because if anyone in our city is in crisis, then we have more work to do.

Miki Frost

Age: 49
I am a St. Paul native, a father, community organizer, youth advocate and nonprofit program director. I attended Highland Park High School and studied psychology and chemical dependency counseling at Minneapolis Community College. I opened my first 8218 Truce Center on Lexington Parkway and Selby Avenue in St. Paul. I was frustrated with the level of crime in our city coupled with the lack of resources for our youth and decided a change must be made. That, along with being disappointed at our current administration, triggered me to get into the mayoral race and fight to make some changes.
Public safety
For over two years, St. Paul has been experiencing a crime epidemic. Homicides, shots fired and violent crime is at an all-time high. At the same time, the community has voiced a need for criminal justice system reform. The mayor has an obligation to ensure staffing and resources are provided to keep the city safe and support the necessary reforms. Every citizen in St. Paul should have a chance to feel safe. As mayor, I will support both the St. Paul Police Department and the reforms necessary to improve criminal justice outcomes. This includes increasing training for police officers and expanding community outreach. In the first year, I will restore police officer positions and implement proven technologies to help reduce crime, including financing a ShotSpotter pilot project in those areas most impacted by gun violence.
Furthermore, more and more children are coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Sadly, they are becoming increasingly involved in more violent crime. Criminal justice system involvement at such a young age hinders future success. The mayor's office has a unique opportunity to intervene in this cycle. Every child in St. Paul should have a chance to succeed in life. As mayor, I will leverage community partnerships to empower all youth in our community to make positive life choices that will foster personal development into productive and contributing members of society. In the first year, I will work with youth service providers, increase recreation center hours and mobilize a volunteer network to reach children at risk.
Budgeting and infrastructure
Strategic investments must be made so that our spending is in alignment with what taxpayers expect — and this includes infrastructure maintenance and bricks-and-mortar projects. It is possible to balance these projects with our community needs. We can and must take advantage of all funding sources, including state and federal grants and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, to lessen the demand on our city's taxpayers.
A growing tax base is vital for a strong community and keeping property taxes low while still providing high-quality city services. The mayor has an important role in working with the private sector to assist in the development and redevelopment of the riverfront and under-utilized areas. Economic development is also best achieved through a business-friendly approach from city government. St. Paul should have a chance to be a regional leader in economic growth and job creation. As mayor, I will work to expand our tax base and increase jobs with everyone's input. This includes seeking creative ways to bring in and retain big and small businesses and add new jobs — all consistent with our community values. In the first year, I will assemble a panel of experts, guided by community input, and put into action a plan that fosters economic development and job creation.
Rent control
This is a question that we — citizens, elected officials and policy experts — can explore and answer together.
Other issues
St. Paul's sense of community is being tested by economic and public safety stress. Our city has the potential to be a strong and vibrant community, but it requires leadership from the top. City government must work for the people and respond to community needs. The mayor's office is best positioned to lead efforts in response to community concerns. These often include affordable housing, homelessness, road maintenance, infrastructure, mental health and other issues.

Dino Guerin

Age: 62
A public safety leader with experience in emergency management, incident command, threat prevention and mitigation, and community partnerships. Over 31 years, advanced through the ranks of the St. Paul Fire Department to the rank of district fire chief. Elected to three terms on the St. Paul City Council and one term on the Ramsey County Board. Strong knowledge of Ramsey County, city of St. Paul and surrounding community. Established connections with community groups, nonprofits and businesses due to past associations and committee memberships.
Public safety
St. Paul has an excellent and progressive police department. They have been utilizing community policing for over 30 years. Their policies have been effective in serving all residents of the city.
I would continue to support and expand de-escalation training while increasing training and education when serving the mentally challenged.
Budgeting and infrastructure
I would review, then prioritize building maintenance based on safety issues. The Capital Improvement Budget Committee recommendations would be instrumental in determining which infrastructure projects go forward.
I always support development. However, regarding the Ford plant, I would review the size and scope of this project with the community stakeholders. I will continue to collaborate with the Port Authority on the Hillcrest project. As Totem Town land is owned by Ramsey County, I would work with county commissioners to assess the needs of the community and how development of the property can best be utilized.
Rent control
I believe property owners are more qualified to determine what their rates should be to cover expenses.
Other issues
As mayor, I will enforce curfews for juveniles as one component of my policy to reduce crime and protect youth in our city. Research has shown that many children are either a perpetrator or the victim of crime during the late hours of the night.
A curfew allows us to reduce crime, identify our youth that may need protective services, counseling or access to resources. Counselors and community leaders will assess and speak with the children to determine how best to help them.
The children will be provided a safe and secure environment until their parent/guardian picks them up from the curfew care center.

Bill Hosko

Age: 59
I have a long-time career as an architectural artist, a gallery and frame shop owner (specializing in St. Paul), and I have an attractive, intimate music/performance venue I designed and built. I renewed my leases in 2019 for 10 years.
I have served for a time on three district council boards, where my attendance record was near perfect. I've also run for City Council (Ward 2) and am not embarrassed by placing second four of five times.
I have been involved in many volunteer projects to help others and particular causes and in civic affairs to help better St. Paul.
Public safety
I've door-knocked 75% of St. Paul since beginning my campaign Feb. 25. By Election Day, I expect to have covered every block. The public agrees, we cannot place St. Paul back onto a higher track until we get growing crime and growing lack of accountability under control and reversed.
Do we need more police officers and ShotSpotter technology to do it? Most citizens, particularly in high-crime areas, want this. Are judges and city/county attorneys being too lenient? Many say they are.
Misconduct/crime on public transit has become commonplace. A quarter-century ago, a Metropolitan Council staff person said there was no political will to help them address it. I will provide it.
Should we educate the need for personal responsibility and the need for achievable, large-scale mentoring and large-scale, part- and full-time, meaningful work programs — i.e. Works Progress Administration programs from the 1930s? As mayor, I will ensure these happen.
Budgeting and infrastructure
Politicians here were quick to shut down hundreds of small businesses during COVID, which subsequently caused widespread economic harm while large conglomerates were allowed to have record sales at the expense of our closed small businesses — in the name of they were selling "essential items." Many of the same essential items that closed small businesses had been selling.
Add to this, leadership's refusal to curtail ever-rising small- and medium-sized criminal behavior, which then often escalates into serious crime.
On top of this, for years, City Hall has also neglected basic city services in order to fund their political goals. The public has seemingly had enough of the needless spending in lieu of basic services they are paying for. Basic services will be funded if I am elected mayor, and policies to ensure they remain fully funded into the future will be put in place.
Needless city and county spending has been the long-standing driver of ever-higher housing costs, including rents, here. The argument is circular as leadership continues to believe they need ever more dominion over citizens and all aspects of housing here to correct problems they helped create. Further, local politicians for years have found ways to squander rare opportunities presented to St. Paul. Not under my watch.
"In our first 90 days" will be my initiative to speak with citizens as openly as possible in public and on the city's website about: what is working and what is not working in St. Paul, and how do we fix what is not working? There will also be clear, concise and frank discussions about how do we ensure reuse of the Ford plant site and Hillcrest and Totem Town, among other potential development sites, can proceed in the best and highest uses possible for all involved.
Rent control
While I continue to work my way across this entire city since Feb. 25, I have occasion to ask people: If you owned a home or a building and were selling it or renting it out, would you want City Hall to tell you the prices you can charge?
I support both sides of the equation educating people — without hyperbole and misleading campaigns — on the pros and cons of rent control. I will support the public's Nov. 2 decision.
Other issues
Within one year, I will ensure the city's website is upgraded to allow verified St. Paul citizens to (within reasoned/secure parameters) interact with each other, city staff and elected officials on topics at hand and to vote online, up or down, on issues at hand, including proposed line-item budget items.
Further, I will support referendums in which citizens will get to decide if we shall move city elections from odd-numbered-years to even-numbered years so as to double or even triple turnout. (Historically, city elections draw only 15-20% of the public.) Shall we have term limits for elected officials, and shall we repeal ranked-choice voting or keep it?
Creating the Railroad and Riverboat Museum of Minnesota within Union Depot, bringing new life to our famous Winter Carnival (in danger of moving to the fairgrounds, in Falcon Heights) and restoring our July Fourth celebrations will also occur.

Dora Jones-Robinson

Age: 56
State of Minnesota for over 15 years in various positions. Worked for the city of Phoenix for four years and the state of Arizona for four years. Founder and CEO of Mentoring Young Adults for over 16 years. Founder of Guns Down St. Paul and Minneapolis for five years. Author of two published books. Former board member for African American Leadership Council for 12 years. Former board member of Council for Black Male Success for six years. Former board member and entertainment chair of Rondo Inc. Former board member of MLK Statewide Celebration. Former board member of Brotherhood Inc. Minnesota National Speakers Association.
Public safety
Public safety and police reform is the most important issue in my mission with the retraining of all officers — we need to make sure they are healthy so they can help create a healthy community. Retrain all police officers and offer them an incentive to move to the city in which they work. Work closely with the judges, probation officers and city and county attorneys so that we are effectively holding guilty parties, including guilty parties identifying as youth, more accountable to their criminal activities. Also, we need to access and utilize new and advanced technology such as ShotSpotter so that we can make sure we are taking all measures to prevent gun violence. Holding all responsible for their actions no more patting youth on the hand and letting their parents come and get them.
I would also reappoint Chief Todd Axtell.
Budgeting and infrastructure
First, I would reduce the number of staff that is on the city administrative team starting with the mayor's office. By combining some of the current offices and duties, we would be able to reduce city funding and spending. We would immediately cross-train positions that can be handled by other administrative offices, which would reduce city funding. More city staff cross-training will be administered immediately so that all areas are covered. I will reduce the mayor's office administrative staff by 25-40%. This will free up some resources, but not nearly enough. Infrastructure spending has been deferred by presiding mayors for decades now. I will commit to spending at least 15% more on infrastructure by the end of my first term.
Cities rarely stay the same, and as innovation and progression often take the lead in society, we must make sure we stay current so we don't get left behind. We are in a different place and time than we were one year ago, two years ago, and we must move forward with the times. I believe in newer development as it plays a vital role in our society, but also I believe in creating and maintaining affordable housing, especially in the inner cities that have increased poverty. I have personally lived in low-income areas and understand firsthand the negative impact that poverty has on quality of life. Concentrated areas of poverty negatively impact quality of life. This is why we need to risk some degree of gentrification, in order to improve our neighborhoods.
The risk of gentrification should not stop us from making more housing, including affordable housing, for more residents. Sadly, closing down Boys Totem Town was a travesty, because it was an event that gravely limited our options for our young men in helping them change their lives and be productive citizens in society. Going forward I am committed to prevention of youth incarceration, however, we must hold them accountable or we will be remiss in our duties to govern our city.
Rent control
I will vote "no" on the ballot question. While there are a number of good things in the St. Paul rent control measure, the negatives outweigh the positives. For example, disincentives for new construction and for timely maintenance.
Other issues
I have learned in this campaign that some of these administrative offices can be combined and combined work duties. I would like to change the culture of our politics in our city of St. Paul by restructuring. We now have various offices that have been deemed as a conflict of interest and we believe that transparency is not being upheld at the city and county level, by way of merged family units controlling our city. City restoration.

Paul Langenfeld

Age: 58
As a native Minnesotan and proud son of a World War II veteran, I have called St. Paul my home for the past 40 years. I earned my bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of St. Thomas and have since received many awards for my public service. My passion to help others runs deep as I am the founder and president of the Langenfeld Foundation (est. 2006), an organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with developmental disabilities. Furthermore, I have served on the Highland District Council as vice president and as a member of the Community Engagement Committee.
Public safety
Safe streets first! The safety of our businesses, the public and their neighborhoods happens to be the most important job function of a city. Our efforts to help small businesses thrive, build infrastructure, support great schools, recruit high-wage jobs and provide great public services including recreational amenities can all pale in comparison to the importance of public safety. Without safe streets, residents move, businesses relocate, schools collapse and neighborhoods that once thrived become only shells of their former existence.
I believe it is now time to begin prioritizing the freedoms of our law-abiding citizens, and their businesses, over the freedom of criminals. If crime pays (as it does today), citizens and our businesses will lose. As your next mayor, I will work to restore law and order in our city because our community cannot have the jobs we want and the quality of life we deserve without safe streets first.
Budgeting and infrastructure
Aging infrastructure continues to remain a concern for many cities across America. It has finally become a national priority. Challenges of this magnitude require focused initiative on behalf of the state and federal government along with our entire community. Furthermore, because projects of this nature can take years to design, permit, fund and construct, we must identify greater efficiencies throughout this entire process to solve this issue. Lastly, there is always the risk that by the time a project is finally ready to start construction, the community has already outgrown it.
Because of this, I believe that in addition to increased outside funding, we must insist on better long-term planning to meet future demands on our infrastructure while holding our planning department, local planning commissions, the Metropolitan Council, state agencies and the Legislature accountable for their infrastructure decisions that directly impact the people of St. Paul.
With new development and redevelopment comes new investment. New investment brings with it more (not less) economic opportunity for those who need it most. Increased economic opportunity leads to increases in average incomes, jobs and better housing. Without new investment, the opposite happens.
For projects underway, legally, they would have been vetted and negotiated by the current mayor and his administration through a publicly transparent approval process. Any governing agreements executed between the city and the developer would have to be monitored and adhered to by the next mayor(s) for the entire term of the agreement. Concerns about gentrification should have been previously addressed and included within the final governing agreement with the community.
New projects not approved by the city, I furthermore support creating local construction jobs, permanent jobs and skills development to be made available exclusively to the community as part of the final development agreement.
Rent control
No. Rather than issuing a loophole-ridden mandate upon landlords, it would be more effective for the city (and nonprofit charities) to work directly with financially vulnerable families who require rental assistance using a form of government-provided rent/social insurance.
Based on past performance, government "good intentions" have a predictable history of contradictory consequences. Policies mandating price controls, whether on food or rent, only creates scarcity and higher prices.
Predictably, price controls lead to a reduction of available supply and ultimately lead to higher prices (rent) for everyone else. In other words — reduced availability of rental housing for working families and increased housing prices.
Placing our faith in a city government to successfully control rising rent when it cannot even control rising crime requires a huge leap of faith. When our government gets involved, you get more of what you don't want and less of what you do want.
Other issues
Safe streets first! The safety of our businesses, the public and their neighborhoods happens to be the most important job function of a city and the most pressing issue in the city. It is now time to begin prioritizing the freedoms of our law-abiding citizens and their businesses over the freedom of criminals.

Abu Nayeem

Age: 33
I'm a programmer, data scientist and Midway/Frogtown community organizer. I have a master's of science in agricultural and resource economics from UC Berkeley. I'm the former education data analyst for South Washington County Schools and the founder/programmer of the St. Paul Open Data Initiative. I'm the lead cleanup organizer for neighborhood cleanup groups in Frogtown and Midway. I've done some political organizing addressing the rise of catalytic converter thefts, creating a petition that received 1,600 signatures, which led to a virtual town hall meeting bringing citizens and state legislators together.
Public safety
Currently, Mayor Carter is funding public safety programs by underfunding the St. Paul Police Department. Officers being stressed can lead to critical errors and poor interactions with citizens. The Office of Neighborhood Safety aims to replace officers with social workers (or equivalent) for low-priority calls. A major concern is the safety of the social worker as these calls can escalate and additional stress of officers to handle only high priority calls.
I take a "yes and" approach: Fund SPPD and support policing alternatives. I propose a system where citizens can get aided by non-police staff by calling a non-emergency number (i.e. 311), or calling 911 and operators give citizens the choice. The citizens assess the danger and appropriate staff is sent. Patrol officers will be given paid time (30%) to engage the community they serve. Police liability insurance will be implemented to remove the most liable officers.
Budgeting and infrastructure
Previous administrations have neglected infrastructure maintenance to fund their personal pet projects. Some of these projects will be cut. I will allocate a portion of the budget for road repair and maintenance. For large building projects, the city can offer bonds to fund it.
For long-term planning, we need to increase tax revenue in the city and/or get the large nonprofits to pay their share of street maintenance (will need more research on approach). There are a lot of empty lots around the downtown/Capitol area; they can be rebuilt with mixed residential and commercial buildings, increasing the city's total revenue. This may require some ordinance changes.
Finally, we need to stop giving tax increment financing (TIF) subsidies to developers that don't need it. It siphons out tax dollars that can be used to repair roads, fund schools, etc.
The city's goal is to increase our revenue stream, healthy housing market and keep tax increases manageable. The biggest tool to increase housing and development are changes in ordinance to permit multi-unit housing. A multi-use development — i.e. commercial and residential — has the greatest tax benefit per lot size. We should not be giving hundreds of millions of tax subsidies to developers that don't need it.
Gentrification, when removing race, is simply development. A pre-gentrified neighborhood has low owner occupancy, high rental units, vacancy and crime density. Often due to crime, long-term owner occupancy units are sold to rental property owners. Once an area improves, the rental property owner sells to a new homeowner. Low-income renters (likely people of color) are being displaced by wealthier homeowners (likely white) that may not live in the neighborhood. For displaced renters, we need more housing. For new homeowners of color, we can offer down payment assistance.
Rent control
For the current rent control measure on the ballot, I believe it is too restrictive. Besides 3% being the strictest cap in the country, the ballot measure will also apply to new housing developments and vacant properties. Given my economics background, I'm fairly certain it will lead to a decrease in housing supply as these conditions are unfavorable to any new developer and place restrictions on renovations, leading to increased rental market prices.
Should the cap be 3% or 5%? The amount of staff and exemption cases from landlords that the city deals with is dependent on the cap. The cap should protect renters from excessive rent increases, which can be set at the 90% percentile of rent increase so the city can prepare appropriate staff and protect renters from extreme rent increases.
Other issues
Citizens are concerned with the rising taxes and frustrated with where that money goes to. Currently, we have a top-down approach, where the mayor sets the budget and programs. There is limited accountability of the management and effectiveness of these programs.
I want to implement a participatory budget, where a portion of citizens' taxes can be allocated to public proposals, which can be designed by citizens and nonprofits alike. Citizens will be investing, building, leading their own initiatives and holding themselves accountable. I would like to build a digital community network platform to make it easier for citizens to interact and assess this information.
If elected, I would like to use the $166 million from the American Rescue Plan to jumpstart the citizen economy. The funds can be broken down to categories, and we will reach out to all citizens directly in how they want to get involved.
Did not participate: Scott Wergin

School board election

Candidates are running to fill three four-year seats.

James Farnsworth

Age: 23
I'm a proud St. Paul Public Schools graduate and son of two longtime public school teachers. After graduating in 2016, I've stayed involved and active in district-related issues and have been an advocate for initiatives ranging from increasing culturally relevant curriculum to strategies for increasing enrollment and retention.
Outside SPPS, I have extensive experience in board governance and community engagement involving organizations and institutions of various sizes. Now more than ever, we need strong board members at the helm to tackle the issues facing the district.
Professionally, I serve as the executive director of the Highland Business Association.
Teachers' strike and union negotiations
I did support the walkout and am proud to be a St. Paul Federation of Educators-endorsed candidate. I was out of town for the active duration (picket lines) of the strike but was an active supporter and amplifier of messages via social media and internal communications.
When it comes to being a school board member during contract negotiations with our district bargaining units, I would work with board colleagues to be a sounding board for the superintendent and advise on negotiation strategy. As school board members who are agents of the public, my strategy would be to come to the table equipped with ample knowledge and perspective rooted in a collaborative, co-governance approach with labor groups and other relevant stakeholders to ensure a well-informed negotiation strategy.
American Rescue Plan priorities
I believe the district's plan to spend its $207 million in American Rescue Plan dollars is comprehensive and sound. From mental health and social emotional learning to investments in safe schools and targeted student services, I'm satisfied (viewing this on the outset) with the planned expenditures and the collaborative process the district underwent to develop the now-board-approved themes and expenditures. It will now be essential for the board to monitor progress and implementation and be ready to quickly adjust course if needed.
SPPS is facing an enrollment crisis. As of June 28, 2020, SPPS was projecting a loss of 1,228 students. Since then, uncertainty surrounding enrollment has only increased due to an extended period of distance learning and other disruptions to educational delivery due to COVID-19. In 2018, total district enrollment had declined in seven out of the 10 prior years. Ongoing programmatic evaluation, examination of building capacity (also in line with a holistic review of the Facilities Master Plan and the Envision SPPS initiative) and Superintendent Gothard's strategic plan (especially tenets directly related to enrollment) must be analyzed and evaluated on an ongoing basis in order to reverse the trend of declining enrollment as soon as possible. The district simply can't sustain continued decreases in enrollment, and it's going to take a comprehensive approach to reverse this damaging trend.
English language learners
The district has an unfortunate history of underserving English language learner students. From a lack of culturally responsive support resources to not meeting federal mandates, there's more work to be done (that must be done in collaboration with families and community) to ensure our ELL students are receiving the services they are legally entitled to.
Other issues
The Envision SPPS initiative is perhaps the most pressing issue in front of the school board that is receiving the least amount of attention in the public realm. School board members that are elected on Nov. 2 will be thrust into major long- and short-term decisions and policymaking around the Envision SPPS initiative, which focuses on the potential merging, combining and closing of programs and schools. I can't emphasize enough how important it is that folks citywide are aware of the potential ramifications and outcomes of this initiative that is quickly moving forward with extremely limited public engagement. I hope to bring my extensive background in institutional change management, strategic planning and inclusive community engagement to the table as an agent of the public, helping the district navigate the potentially very turbulent waters ahead with the implementation of this initiative.

Halla Henderson

Age: 27
I grew up in North Minneapolis and attended high school in Mankato following school closures and budget cuts that devastated my community. Upon returning to the Twin Cities, I studied and graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in psychology. I spent years running campaigns and organizing students and young people to increase voter turnout and engagement. I am also privileged to work directly with young people as the policy director of the only state-mandated and funded youth advisory council in the country, the Minnesota Youth Council, where we assist and empower students to advocate for themselves and their peers.
Teachers' strike and union negotiations
We must protect the right of our workers to strike and bargain for the most equitable possible outcomes. Last year, I was in support of the issues identified by the St. Paul Federation of Educators as the main reason for striking. As a board member, I will serve my role by staying informed and actively aware of what is occurring within the process. I will engage and advise when appropriate. Additionally, I believe it's crucial that as an individual member, I come to conversations early and I see my role as one where I could be proactive instead of waiting to interact when tensions are heightened.
American Rescue Plan priorities
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how great an impact our educators, school buildings and community have on our students. It has exacerbated pre-existing disparities. That's why it's so crucial that we utilize American Rescue Plan funding to address the massive impact of COVID-19 and to fund the services for which our students and families have advocated. Transitioning back after over a year of uncertainty and stress for our students requires a deep investment in mental health supports, social workers and staff trained in restorative practices. I was pleased to see substantial allocations for targeted student services and mental health and social-emotional learning. However, I am concerned about the lack of additional investments in restorative justice practices as a way of building equitable classrooms and spaces for students and the limits of short-term funding over long-term solutions.
I think we must understand what drives families to remove themselves from the district or the public school system — particularly immigrant and BIPOC families. Whether it's school culture, a lack of transparency or that the services students and families need to thrive are missing, that's information that can shape what we prioritize within the budget. In addition to performing exit interviews and collecting data, I would push for the establishment of a comprehensive plan for exiting families. To be effective, any plan would require access to both language and cultural translation. Additionally, I believe the development of the SPPS Online School was a step in the right direction. It meets the needs of families who cannot or prefer not to send their students in-person, and it demonstrates that when there's a clear desire in the community, we can provide alternative options that better meet their needs.
English language learners
We have one of the most diverse school districts — full of rich cultures and lived experiences — however, our students and schools are struggling to provide them with the tools they need for success. Basic translations and written materials are not adequate for families in SPPS. We need to prioritize exploring measures that emphasize audio and video engagement, liaisons for language and cultural communities, and more robust English language learner programming. These investments aim to improve both the retention and experiences of families and foster stronger relationships in SPPS. One path SPPS has taken that I believe we should continue to support are partnerships like the Hmong Parents Advisory Council (HPAC), which provides not only a space for parents, students and educators to connect, but encourages the need for culturally relevant curriculum and practices for all of our students.
Other issues
Supporting, recruiting and hiring additional teachers of color is a top priority of mine. Our students and community have been clear that when our kids see themselves reflected in their lessons and educators, they feel supported. Continuing to create a pipeline of success for staff of color is crucial. Safe schools occur when our students are supported and have access to strong mental health supports and providers. We need to ensure that we have enough trauma-responsive providers and care professionals in each building. Finally, districts like ours have struggled with chronic underfunding for years. We cannot continue with short-term funding solutions, we need to advocate and work with our state partners for more equitable public school funding.

Jennifer McPherson

Age: 39
Born and raised in St. Paul, I attended Inner City Youth League and Youth Express. An ordained minister, activist, wife and mother of five St. Paul Public Schools students, a Parent Academy graduate and former facilitator. I fought for equal rights for girls in sports, becoming the first female wrestler in St. Paul's Harding class of 2000. I'm a former Sunday School teacher, assistant youth leader and youth pastor. I coached football for L.E.S. I currently run the Community Bridge Committee to protest street violence and teach self-love. It is my responsibility to put children first.
Teachers' strike and union negotiations
My children and I walked the picket lines and marched to 360. I wrote emails and placed calls. As a board member I will continue to support staff and listen to them. I will also fight for better contracts and pay.
American Rescue Plan priorities
Pandemic response team, mental health teams, special education services, school building safety, teacher and teaching assistant sign-on bonuses.
Better communication and respect for families. We need to stop the School Attendance Matters partnership with the Ramsey County Attorney's Office and child protection services.
English language learners
Giving students one-on-one attention, building relationships with students and their families, cultural celebrations, hiring teachers and staff that look like the students, having interpreters, translating flyers and phone calls.
Other issues
Reading— stop teaching with letter sounds and use word sounds, have more tutors available, peer mentors, student engagement, family engagement, help parents gain employment through the district, school start times and cultural awareness.

Jim Vue

Age: 41
I'm a Hmong father with four children in St. Paul Public Schools from high school to early childhood family education. My sons have autism and as a volunteer parent advocating through their individual education plans the last 10 years, I learned about the operations of SPPS. I'm qualified because I'm an incumbent who was elected vice chair of the school board by my colleagues. I graduated from Metropolitan State University with a bachelor's in history and a master's in liberal studies. I'm an Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2003. My children are my compass and parent leadership is my framework.
Teachers' strike and union negotiations
Mutual respect is the best landing spot for all 27 bargaining units in St. Paul Public Schools. It is best to create consistent practices, parameters and priorities by which SPPS engages all its bargaining units. In this way, SPPS does not spend an inequitable amount of time with any one unit, all units hear the same message and hear it from the same negotiators. The St. Paul Federation of Educators went on strike in the winter of 2020. At that time, I was a parent and didn't support the walkout in any way. Since then, I've been on record in the last special election for school board noting that I did not support the strike. Presently, I still do not support the strike.
American Rescue Plan priorities
I would give college and career readiness a much higher priority. COVID-19 disrupted students' lives for 18 months and continues into the present. This is creating a vacuum for students inadequately transitioning into college, trades or career after high school. They need assistance in the immediate present. I'd like to see a robust partnership between SPPS and colleges, employers, organizations and institutions that can provide direct opportunities for students who were impacted by COVID-19. The American Rescue Plan for SPPS is proposing $88.2 million directed to high quality education, $66.9 million to safe schools, $11.5 million to targeted student services, $10.9 million to family services and community partnerships, $11.7 million to operational expenses, $8 million to mental health and social-emotional learning and $9.4 million to systemic equity. Currently, only $1.5 million from the $88.2 million directed to high quality education is allocated to college and career readiness.
Enrollment decline is not new to St. Paul Public Schools. Forty years ago, SPPS experienced a major decline in enrollment only to be remedied by the arrival of immigrant and refugee families from other countries. Today, SPPS is over 70% students of color. Most of these students are the children of the immigrant and refugee families. Because the graduation rates for students of color from those earlier times are not great, the confidence and patience these families have for SPPS in the present is minimal. Families of color make up the majority of students leaving the district today. I suggest teaching curriculum that reflects their lived experiences, retaining and hiring staff that reflect the people who come from their communities, and partnering with existing programs or organizations that supplement their learning.
English language learners
SPPS provides college credit to English language learner students who test up to standards in their non-English language. These credits provide incentives for students to go on to college. This is what the district is doing right. The district is falling short in growing these programs to support the range of ELL students it serves. For example, an ELL student may also receive special education. It would be amazing if this student tested successfully in their non-English language, went on to college and started a career. But most likely, this student needs routine, repetition and hands-on experience before they go on to college. I suggest an increased focus on practical applications of using English such as working as a team, starting and completing large projects, and managing a budget. These practices should complement the academic rigors of reading, math and writing, not replace them.
Other issues
In a world of COVID-19, a school board member must consider social distancing, masking, testing and vaccinations as much as enrollment, quality staffing, academic outcomes and career and college readiness. There are over 34,000 students and over 3,000 employees in SPPS. All were disrupted from learning, teaching and performing their duties over the course of the last 18 months and to this day. SPPS needs leadership that has experience mitigating the spread of COVID-19 while also remaining effective in governing roles. Also, SPPS must embark on participating in the use of solar energy sooner rather than later. But most importantly, SPPS needs leaders who ensure that administrators are held accountable for their actions, that progress is being made toward goals in the strategic plan and proactive communication with the diverse families that make up SPPS. Over the last year, I have proven that I can do all this work.

Uriah Ward

Age: 30
I'm a financial aid administrator, former classroom teacher, DFL leader and labor union organizer with a master's in education and experience supporting student development. I pursued a career in education because I see our schools as critically important institutions that can contribute to a more fair and equitable society. I believe our schools should meet the individual needs of all of our students and set them up for success — whatever success means for them. I know what it looks like when we fall short of that goal. I'm running to help build the schools our students deserve.
Teachers' strike and union negotiations
I did support the St. Paul Federation of Educators. I brought breakfast for striking workers and joined them on the picket line every morning. I'm a strong union supporter and believe that our workplaces are better when workers can come together to bargain. That's why I initiated and helped lead the successful effort to unionize my workplace and why I volunteered to serve on my union's bargaining team.
I hope that my experience in organized labor can be an asset to the district as we work to improve our relationships with our bargaining units and avoid future walkouts. I would work intentionally to maintain open communication with our bargaining units, work with district leadership to promote good-faith bargaining and attend bargaining sessions as I'm able to keep myself informed about the process.
American Rescue Plan priorities
I believe we should put our students at the forefront of our budgetary decisions. As much as we can, we need to focus our resources where they have the biggest direct impact on students. That's why I've spent so much of this campaign talking about reducing class sizes, investing in mental health supports and making sure our students have access to nurses.
Students do better when they receive more individual attention at school. These investments are expensive, but they're important if we're trying to give our students the schools they deserve. As a school board member, I would be a strong advocate for student-centered budgeting.
Families leave the district for a number of reasons. I would love to see us be proactive about reaching out to families to see why they choose charters or private schools over our public schools. I believe we should conduct regular surveys to give community members a chance to explain to us why they leave the district or why they decided to stay or re-enroll in the district. We can use the data to address the concerns that are leading to decreased enrollment.
What I hear most often is that families leave for smaller class sizes, safer schools, more art class offerings and a more culturally-responsive curriculum. I would like to see us reduce class sizes, invest in mental health support staff, support the arts in all of our schools and work to make certain that our curriculum reflects the lived experiences of all of our students.
English language learners
Our district tries to make certain translation services available to our students and we provide some amazing dual-immersion programs that provide great spaces for students to learn English as well as their own languages.
There are still times when it's difficult to acquire the translation services our schools need to effectively communicate with students and parents. We need to do better. We also need to work more intentionally to reach out to our immigrant and English language learner communities whenever we conduct the surveys that inform our decisions. We can do so through community liaisons who are members of the communities that we're trying to reach.
Other issues
I work as a financial aid counselor. Every day I see students taking out loans to pay for college. I want to set our students up for success by giving them as many opportunities to earn college credit in high school as possible. They have a chance to get ahead and save a lot of money in the long run. We need to make sure all of our students, including potential first-generation college students, know about the opportunities that are available to them.
We also need to make sure students know that college isn't the only path to success. There are good-paying careers in the trades. We should give students opportunities to learn marketable skills they can use to start careers coming out of high school.
We need to make sure we're preparing all of our students for life after school, no matter what path they decide to take.
Did not participate: Ryan Williams

Special school board election

Candidates are running to fill one two-year seat.

Jeannie Foster

Age: 48
I reflect our community and the children and families we serve. I am a graduate, parent of two St. Paul Public Schools graduates and a SPPS grandparent. I am a 30-plus-year professional educator, social worker and active community member. I will continue to put my knowledge and experience to work to change the district from within to better serve students and families. I understand the concerns that kids bring to school, and I use that knowledge for decision making to support students and staff. I bring a balance of professional and personal experience to the board, always putting children first.
Teachers' strike and union negotiations
No. I did not support the walk out and am deeply disappointed to see its unnecessary and continuing toll still on our students, staff and community. As a sitting board member, I strive to be present in and aware of the conversations during negotiation cycles. I work very hard and deliberately to keep children and equity at the center of negotiations and decisions across all 27 bargaining groups. I believe it is my role to be the best steward possible of the district's resources and work to ensure our children get the world class education they deserve.
American Rescue Plan priorities
I know American Rescue Plan funding is one-time money, and there are definite investments we need to make to help students recover from the detrimental impacts of the pandemic (learning loss, social-emotional needs, mental health challenges, etc.). However, I would like to see us consider how we can use some of this funding as a bridge to help redirect existing resources to services we know have been needed but have been unable to provide. This requires us to prioritize according to student need those programs that show successful outcomes and sunset other efforts so we can ensure sustainability going forward. I'd like to see us prioritize initiatives that focus on social-emotional learning, engaging parents/caregivers and connecting students to supportive relationships in school and in their neighborhoods to help them build successful pathways.
There have been many reasons SPPS has seen enrollment decline. Our strategy is to take data collected about what families want and need in their school community and deliver on the promise of a world-class education. We need to achieve fully funded and well-rounded schools so that families will have the choices they want and need and will choose to stay within the district. We must align the budget and resources to meet those goals and do the work of engaging the SPPS community in ongoing conversations to have positive student outcomes for all children in SPPS. We are engaged directly in this work under my leadership.
English language learners
Our English language learners make our classrooms, schools and community richer, and we should value them for such. In the district, we continue to improve their learning process by meeting with children, families and staff. We are working to better identify gaps and make adjustments in our staffing and instruction, such as hiring additional ELL/MLL staff and partnering with outside agencies to create alternative access for support. We must acknowledge that all children have their own unique set of needs and children learning a second or third language are included in that. We must rise to the challenge of a new level of the work in the district and identify more ways in which to engage with families. We must listen to children and their families and understand their cultural norms, interests and abilities to ensure positive outcomes. We must also be intentional about supporting ELL staff.
Other issues
1. We must continue to prioritize resources: Under my leadership, we have moved to a priority-based budget so we know what we are paying for upfront. We are listening to what the community and families want and actively assessing all school programs to ensure each offers a well-rounded, world-class education.
2. We must communicate better: We created an interactive online space for better transparency. We are identifying and expanding our work with diverse community partners, intentionally seeking them out in areas we identify needs.
3. We must continue to diversify our workforce: We are working to recruit, train and retain employees of color at all levels of the district. How we work/partner with our bargaining units to retain these employees will have significant impacts on our kids and the future of the district.

Clayton Howatt

Age: 46
I am a graduate of St. Paul Public Schools, and my wife Kristin and I have two daughters that attend SPPS. I am the co-owner of a small residential remodeling company that operates in St. Paul and beyond. I have been actively advocating for public education for the past eight years in various areas. I am a past president of our school's parent group, I have worked with our teachers union, I have served on district committees, I have formed a group to advocate for a citywide charter school moratorium and more. I am prepared to serve the people and families of St. Paul.
Teachers' strike and union negotiations
I did support the walkout. Labor strikes are the last thing any of us want, including our bargaining units. The St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) are in a position to see directly how our implementation of policies, or lack of policies and investments, help or hurt our students. SPFE was fighting for more social/emotional support for our students, which they need and I support.
I feel it is a board member's job to have a full understanding of the asks and limitations of both sides in contract negotiations. The board member should stay current on how negotiations are proceeding but remain out of the process. If there are areas that become increasingly contentious, I feel it is important for a board member to start to play a more active role. As a publicly elected official, board members are representing an important third party in negotiations, the families of SPPS and the taxpayers of St. Paul.
American Rescue Plan priorities
Equity. SPPS continues to have persistent inequities in our elementary schools. We have elementary schools that have a wide range of opportunities like art, science fairs, music, field trips, gifted and talented services, quality after-school options, overnight camps, student councils, school patrols and on and on. Then we have schools that have the bare minimum. The schools that have less are the ones that have the highest levels of poverty and also tend to have lower achievement levels when comparing the same demographic groups to the more affluent schools.
Our main focus seems to be on addressing the learning loss from the pandemic. This of course is important, but we have the opportunity now to create a system where our goal is to have children fall in love with learning and education, which one could easily see an outcome being that our students will experience educational growth. SPPS has incredible teachers; empower them to light the fire of education within all of our students.
A charter school moratorium. This does not mean closing any charter schools. It simply means that our student population is finite and therefore a system of never-ending school openings does not make common sense. This is something our school board does not have power to do, but school board members need to advocate for our district to our state legislators who can do something about it.
There are plenty of things SPPS can do. As stated above we need equitable elementary schools, that is the starting point. We then need to put in place before- and after-school childcare options for all of our families that need them. Childcare is a struggle for many families across our district, but it is especially difficult for single-parent families and families that have work schedules that are not flexible.
Lastly, we need to be more responsive. When droves of families leave a single school for another district school, or a charter, we know we are not being responsive to our families.
English language learners
Our ELL teachers are an example of where the district is doing a good job. For many families, their ELL teacher is the main point person to our schools. The district's ELL program provides the tools to the ELL teachers to get students from not speaking English at all to being integrated into a system and making academic gains.
Where we need to improve is the size of the caseloads for many of our ELL teachers. For many, they are too high to provide adequate support. We also need to make the process easier for people speaking the languages in highest need that our ELL teachers do not speak, such as Karen, Somali, etc., to enter our schools. We have numerous people who would like to be in our schools to help our newest arrivals who cannot do so due to things as simple as not being able to pass a test in English. We need to change the qualifications so that people who will be assets to our community will be in our schools, and pay them fairly.
Other issues
One of our other pressing issues is the hiring and retention of Black, Brown and Indigenous teachers. Growing our own and hiring from the colleges and universities of Minnesota is too slow. We need to create a program that recruits teachers from out-of-state colleges and universities that have significantly higher numbers of BIPOC education graduates.
These recruits need to be shown a pathway to receive their Minnesota licensure while working with our students. This could be done through the St. Paul Urban Teacher (SUTR) program, which is already operating. We need to assist in housing placement for their year of study to achieve their Minnesota licensure, we need to partner with the city of St. Paul to do this. Then we need to track these students and new hires at least until they receive their tenure at SPPS.