Voters in St. Paul will cast their ballots in the general election for a school board member to serve out the four-year term of Jean O’Connell, who resigned in June. The winner will replace Cedric Baker, whom the board appointed as interim after O’Connell resigned.
The winner of this special election will be sworn in shortly after the election and will serve through December 2017. This is one of three seats that will be on St. Paul ballots on Election Day 2017; the other two are held by Chue Vue and John Brodrick.
Meet the candidates below:
Eduardo Barrera lives in the Summit Hill neighborhood with his wife and two school-age daughters. He said his background as an immigrant would broaden the school board’s representation, and he brings years of community-development work to the role.
“I have a lot of experience working in neighborhoods and around the city to improve conditions,” Barrera said. He noted that he might like to “flip-flop” the district’s motto, “Strong Schools, Strong Communities,” putting communities first by working with neighborhood partners on families’ access to housing, food and other basic needs. “You have strong schools when you have strong communities,” he said.
Barrera holds a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute and has worked with the Wilder Foundation, the Minnesota Housing and Finance Agency and the City of St. Paul. “I have a very broad perspective and knowledge of how the systems work, how budgets work, how policy works,” he said.
“I want every resident to be proud of our school system,” Barrera said. “We all have to work together.”
Greg Copeland has run for political offices in the past, including unsuccessful runs for St. Paul school board in 2015 and for Minnesota Senate District 66 in a 2011 special election. He has served as an officer for the Republican Party. Copeland did not respond to inquiries to his published email address.
Jeanelle Foster has been endorsed by the Democratic Farmer-Labor party. This is her first run for public office. She attended St. Paul schools and holds a master’s degree in education, as well as a bachelor’s degree in human services and an associate in early childhood education. After eight years of classroom teaching, she now works as a parent educator for Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties. She has two grown children.
“I will bring a balance of both personal and professional experience to the board,” Foster said.
She said one of her priorities as a board member would be to “keep children and equity at the center of our decision making.” She would also work to “increase parent and family engagement” and “bring staff together and improve relationships with administration,” she said.
“I have managed programs and worked in teams to identify and create systems for educational success for 18-plus years,” Foster said. “I have worked in collaboration to identify partners with shared values and mission and collaborate specifically in the areas of school success and engagement of stakeholders.”
Cindy Kerr is running for political office for the first time. She said her experience fostering and then adopting her children led her into research on special needs, which continues to be an interest for her as her family navigates the public schools.
“I think there are a lot of kids in SPPS that have undiagnosed trauma and fetal alcohol syndrome and by not handling their needs properly, we are unintentionally causing frustrations to the point of boiling over into violence,” Kerr said. “My main goal is to make all of our schools great for all of our kids—every race and every capability.”
Kerr works at Click Software in Mendota Heights. She said that if elected, she will bring to the board her experience working in business. “I have been brought into departments or products that aren’t performing as expected, to analyze them and to successfully turn them back around,” Kerr noted.
One approach she’d like to see is to analyze what works and replicate it. “We have a handful of great schools in the district that have a wait list every year,” Kerr said. “I want to copy the great things from those wait list schools and see what we can implement at our other schools so all of the kids in our district have a great neighborhood school.
Tony Klehr’s campaign website describes him as “a life long educator, loving father and engaged citizen” and suggests policy priorities, including increased community engagement, spending less on administration in favor of classroom needs, improving school safety by using restorative justice and reversing the trend in enrollment. The website lists an address at 1043 E. Geranium Ave. Klehr did not respond to inquiries to his campaign email address.
Anne Holzman is a freelance writer; a former resident of St. Paul, she now lives in Bloomington.