#schoolsafety | Six candidates, one winner, one year. Who’s running in St. Paul’s special school board election? – Twin Cities

St. Paul school board elections usually take place during odd years, with the three or four top vote-getters earning four-year terms.

This presidential election year, six candidates are quietly competing for just one seat on the board. And the winner will have to run again next year if he or she wants to keep the job.

The special election is being held because of the June death of board chairwoman Marny Xiong from COVID-19.

One month after Xiong’s death, the board chose another Hmong American, Jim Vue, to take her place until the election. But officially, there is no incumbent in the race and there may be no clear favorite, either.


RELATED: Here’s how St. Paul school board candidates answered the Pioneer Press candidate questionnaire


JIM VUE

When the school board made the short-term appointment in July, some members requested applicants who had no intention of running in the November election.

Nonetheless, Vue already has won the endorsement of fellow board member Steve Marchese, who said Vue has been asking “tough, but necessary questions” and brings an important perspective as a father of young children.

Vue, 40, has raised $5,939 for his campaign, according to a report that was due Friday. Donors include former board members Jon Schumacher and Mary Vanderwert; Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough; KaYing Yang of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders; and charter school leader Samuel Yigzaw.

JAMILA MAME

The St. Paul Federation of Educators’ favorite candidates are the two youngest in the race.

The teachers union endorsed 25-year-old Jamila Mame, an organizer with the nonprofit TakeAction Minnesota, saying she would listen to union members and other stakeholders when making decisions on the board.

Mame, who took English language classes as a child, said in a questionnaire that her family enrolled her in a charter school that made her feel “in community and heard” but failed to prepare her for life after high school.

She now supports the union’s priority of a moratorium on new and expanded charter schools. The other candidates also favor a moratorium, except for Vue, who said he didn’t, and Keith Hardy, who didn’t fill out the union’s survey.

Mame has raised the most money in the race with $16,754, but less than a third of that is from St. Paul residents.

JAMES FARNSWORTH

James Farnsworth (Courtesy photo)

James Farnsworth, 22, also received high marks from the teacher’s union, which noted he built relationships with teachers while administering a Facebook group on issues affecting the St. Paul district.

A 2016 Highland Park graduate, Farnsworth has had his eye on the school board since advocating in 2015 for the addition of a student seat on the board. The elected board responded by creating the 13-member Student Engagement and Advancement Board to advise them.

Farnsworth has been hyper-involved with governance and community organizations as a student in high school and at the University of Minnesota. He’s now executive director of the Highland Business Association.

He reported raising $10,789 for his campaign, including donations from U Regents Richard Beeson and Mike Kenyanya, and four teachers in the district.

KEITH HARDY

Keith Hardy (Courtesy photo)

Hardy, 57, made racial equity a priority for the district while serving on the board from 2008-15.

He was involved in the 2009 hiring of Valeria Silva as superintendent and approved her contract extension in 2015, months before the election of a new slate of board members that would soon buy her out.

Hardy and two fellow board members failed to secure the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement in 2015, yet he stayed in the race and finished a distant fifth.

He took another run at the DFL endorsement in 2016 but came up well short and stayed off the special election ballot for Jean O’Connell’s seat, which Jeanelle Foster won.

Hardy also pursued in July the short-term appointment that went to Vue. One board member, Chauntyll Allen, initially voted for him.

Hardy’s pitch to voters this year is simple: The winner only gets one year on the board, so voters should pick the candidate who’s already done the job.

Hardy hasn’t reported raising money for his campaign this time around.

CHARLOTTE CASTRO, OMAR SYED

Charlotte Castro (Courtesy photo)

The final two candidates, Charlotte “Charlie” Castro and Omar Syed, return to the ballot after coming up short last year.

Castro took fifth and Syed seventh in a nine-way race for four seats.

Castro, 40, is a systems analyst and a communications instructor for the Minnesota State system. She says she’ll implement community listening sessions if elected.

She has reported $220 in donations.

Syed, 45, is a coffee shop owner and pharmacy technician who has a child in the school district. A native of Somalia, he once was an English language learner student.

Syed wants to hire more teachers of color and reduce student suspensions while increasing school safety.

He has not filed any campaign finance documents, which are required only if a candidate raises or spends $750.



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