The Ward One candidates are:
Trahern Crews (Green Party)
Dai Thao (Incumbent, DFL Party)
Dai Thao's website starts out with the statement, "My whole life has prepared me for the position of Councilmember for Ward 1. I was born in Laos and escaped the communist regime there as a youth. I survived refugee camps in Thailand and came to Minneapolis, where I grew up in a housing project." That made me blink and think that this may be an excessive level of preparation for the St. Paul City Council. He also calls out some of his top accomplishments (he was elected for the first time two years ago -- I think maybe someone resigned mid-term, since terms are normally four years long): "We approved Paid Parental Leave, secured pool vouchers for low-income youth and supported the Women's Economic Security Act, ensuring all women contractors are paid the same as men."
Before taking office he worked as a community organizer for Take Action MN (working against the evil constitutional amendments of 2012) and ISAIAH (organizing to help people in poverty, basically). You really could not ask for a candidate more committed to racial and economic justice and progressive issues.
Trahern Crews is Green Party endorsed. He starts off by saying he wants to end government tax breaks to Wal-Mart (does the City of St. Paul even give tax breaks to Wal-Mart? I mean, I suppose it's possible?) and then says he wants to implement rent control. Rent control is a terrible idea. (Though I'm not super surprised that a Green-endorsed candidate would disagree with me on that issue.)
His website looks fully functional but if you click the donations link it says "Online donations coming soon!" and then suggests you set up a meeting with Trahern to give him a donation in person. Since the election is on Tuesday, I'm thinking that online donations are not coming soon.
And that's fine with me, because Dai Thao is absolutely the person I would vote for if I were a resident of Ward 1.
I have no council race in my own ward -- Chris Tolbert, who pronounces his last name toll-bert and not like Stephen Colbert's last name but with a T, is running unopposed. Given the complete and utter mess that was this summer's road construction projects, I find that a little surprising. Possibly it was such a hassle to get out of our neighborhood that possible opponents couldn't get down to City Hall to file?
Anyway, there are other wards that have interesting races in various ways and let me see if I can get through any of them before election day, which is Tuesday of this coming week.
Ward 5 has the following candidates:
Amy Brendmoen (incumbent)
David Sullivan-Nightengale (endorsed by the Independence Party)
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If you really loathe Amy Brendmoen, I guess you can pick between the resentful failed businessman and the slightly paranoid safety engineer for your 1st and 2nd choice. (St. Paul has ranked-choice voting, so you can order them by preference, you don't have to pick just one.)
Otherwise, vote for Amy.
So the last candidate of the bunch is Keith Hardy.
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In my Facebook-based live-blogging about the endorsing convention last spring, I wrote, "We're tired of our children falling through the cracks!" says a Keith Hardy supporter who just reminded us he's running for a 3rd term.
Yeah. People are really tired of it. I think that might be the source of the entire throw-the-bums-out approach this year. Because chaotic classrooms, badly planned rollouts (either of technology or new policies), and teachers so miserable that you lose nine in one month from one school: that hurts all the kids. The privileged families are going to be loudest about it, because they have that sort of bone-deep middle class entitlement that tells them that their voices matter. But what they're complaining about isn't, "we're getting a smaller slice of the pie." They're saying, "this pie is ENTIRELY FUCKED." They're saying, "GUYS, we want there to be a pie, and instead you threw a bunch of things into a pie plate and shoved it into the oven for a while. Now I have a crescent wrench and a handful of Lego bricks on my plate, and putting a scoop of ice cream on top DID NOT TURN THOSE THINGS INTO FOOD." Inedible metaphorical pie doesn't feed anyone, but it is 10x worse to get inedible metaphorical pie if you don't have parents with the skills and equipment to bake you nourishing metaphorical pies at home.
Anyway. I am strongly inclined to vote for the four DFL-endorsed candidates this year.
So I'll start by saying that in this situation, I think it's entirely legitimate to hold it against Rashad Turner that he didn't file in time to get on the ballot. If something had changed drastically during the race due to a death, a major scandal, whatever, and he jumped in -- fine. But that's not what happened. His answer to "why aren't you on the ballot?" is "I was encouraged and decided to run for school board after the filing deadline. I missed it by a couple of days." Although, I have in fact voted for a write-in candidate who jumped into the race because he disliked the person who was running (John Scalzi, when he ran for SFWA president in 2007) but I do think "oh good grief, if you couldn't decide you wanted to do this in time to file, you don't deserve the job" is a reasonable attitude.
He's running a lot more seriously than some of the other candidates, though -- he has a website, he has endorsements (from the Green Party), he can take donations and he's recruiting volunteers.
Rashad is best known for being the most visible organizer of Black Lives Matter of St. Paul. Which means I need to start with a sidebar about BLM generally and BLM-St. Paul. When I talk about BLM over on Facebook, for the most part I've just reposted things that other people have said. I'm white, I'm solidly privileged on the issue of cops and how they treat civilians (when was the last time you saw a video of a cop beating the crap out of a nonresisting middle aged white lady?) and I think that solidarity from white people on this issue is entirely called for but making white voices predominant is really not.
But just to be clear about this from the get-go, I think that Black Lives Matter is an ENTIRELY legitimate movement. I am horrified by the fact that black men and women are routinely battered, abused, threatened, and murdered with complete impunity by people to whom we've handed over a shit ton of authority and not bothered to check up on. And I'll note that fixing policing to protect black people is a great example of what I think of as societal Universal Design. Universal Design is an approach to building design where things are made accessible to disabled people but also just better for everyone. If you've ever pressed a "door open" button with your butt to get through a door with your hands full, you have benefited from universal design. But if you start with the people who will have the hardest time getting through a door, you can usually guarantee that everyone will be able to get through that door. If we start by protecting the people who are most vulnerable to police abuses, it's going to get better for everyone. (Well, everyone who is not a power-tripping abusive asshole with a badge. But I'm good with that!)
All that said, I am not convinced that Rashad Turner would be a terrific person to have on the school board.
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As a final note: you are welcome to post comments about whether Rashad would be good or bad on the St. Paul school board. We're not going to have a conversation about the basic legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement. We're also not going to get into BLM-St. Paul's tactics in general. I realize that there is some overlap here, but if I think you're not making a good-faith effort to stay on topic I will delete your comments.
I have been putting this off and putting this off and then I realized today that the election is in less than a week and I do in fact need to make a decision about who I'm going to vote for in it.
The four DFL-Endorsed candidates are Steve Marchese, Mary Vanderwert, Jon Schumacher, and Zuki Ellis.
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Overall, I would say I like Mary, Zuki, and Steve quite a bit. I'm less enthusiastic about Jon, but may ultimately vote for him.
Part of my struggle in terms of just getting a grip on this race is that the four DFL-endorsed candidates have been running as a unit and encouraging people to think of them as a unit. I've seen few (if any) individual signs: they want you to put up a sign with all four candidates on it.
In fact, this may be sort of a party response to some of what happened in Minneapolis last year, where a DFL-endorsed candidate (Iris Altamirano?) went to a fundraiser for Don Samuels (who was not DFL-endorsed, and Iris was supposed to be supporting Rebecca Gagnon, the other DFL-endorsed candidate). I would not be surprised if somewhere in the process they all pledged to support whoever the endorsed candidates were, especially if they were also endorsed. (I was actually at the city convention, where these pledges would've been made, but the acoustics in that room were horrible, I was seated near the back, and I missed large amounts of what was said from the microphones, despite them regularly scolding us to "be respectful" and refrain from side conversations, which -- FYI, DFL Arrangements Committee -- NEVER WORKS EVER.)
But it makes it that much harder to properly think about and write about the race. In part because I really don't WANT to elect four people who are going to march in party-approved lock-step. I want people who will bring their individual ideas and priorities to thinking about the problems of the district. I mean, sure, there are certainly areas where I want to see SPPS follow the liberal party line, but there are a whole lot of issues that schools have to deal with that are not obviously partisan.
There was a campaigner from Caucus for Change (a Minneapolis teacher who had been sent out door-knocking on behalf of the St. Paul endorsed candidates) who door-kocked me a few weeks back to talk up the four endorsed candidates. I told him I would probably vote for three of them, but was undecided on whether to vote for all four, or for three plus Keith Hardy. His pitch against Keith Hardy was that the School Board has seven people on it, with four seats up for vote, and if Keith Hardy is elected, the Old Guard will still control a majority of seats. The implication, of course, is that the old board voted as a block and would continue to do so -- I find that startling as hell, because back when the Minneapolis City Council was dominated by people I deeply disliked, there were huge fracture lines and people who were the "good guys" on the council who we didn't want to get rid of. How is it even possible that there's no one on the board that the CfC considers a potential ally for their candidates? Were all their controversial votes unanimous?
Ed pointed out that if we vote for the DFL-endorsed candidates, then we're handing full control of the school board to the Caucus for Change. To revisit this point -- I am generally pro-union but I think it's important to remember that the priority of the teacher's union is to represent the interests of teachers. Those overlap heavily with the interests of students but there are areas where they conflict, and when those come before the board, I do not want the union voice to be the only one at the table. Is that what I'm going to get, with four Caucus for Change candidates? Maybe not. I mean, the overall approach with using CfC instead of doing straight-up union endorsement was that they screened everyone and gave most of the non-incumbents vying for DFL endorsement a general stamp of approval, and then said they would say "yes, them" to whomever the DFL endorsed. And for all that I feel like the CfC has presented itself in a deceptive way, it's also the most hands-off approach to union endorsement I could have ever asked for.
Anyway, I'm going to write about Keith Hardy (the incumbent) and Rashad Turner (running as a write-in candidate) and then possibly I'll have more thoughts on the race overall. If anyone who adores Jon Schumacher wants to make a pitch for him, by all means feel free, either in comments or by e-mail. (My e-mail address is my first and last name, at gmail. Basically if you were to take a stab in the dark based on the fact that I do all my pre-election research with Google, you won't go wrong.)
In an attempt to impose some organization on this process, I'm going to do a relatively quick post on the candidates I'm not seriously considering voting for, with some information on why. To recap, there are nine candidates on the ballot and four seats. There are four DFL-endorsed candidates and one incumbent who's running without endorsement. That leaves four remaining candidates, none of whom are really all that viable: Scott Raskiewicz, Linda Freeman, Greg Copeland, and Aaron Anthony Benner.
Cut for the analysis of the candidates.
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There is also a write-in candidate, Rashad Turner. I'm going to tackle him with the real candidates because despite not actually getting his act together in time to be on the ballot, he's at least got a website, positions, a donations link, etc.
So I'm going to note something up front: I am a parent, and I live in St. Paul, but my kids don't go to St. Paul public schools. They both attend a charter school. They used to attend a Minneapolis public school; I pulled them out to attend this charter, and then we moved to St. Paul, so in fact they have never attended St. Paul public schools (although Kiera might do so in the future). So the bulk of my stories about the various ways in which the current Board has made a mess of things are all stories from friends and acquaintances, like the St. Paul teacher who vented a long list of frustrated complaints about her work environment while pressing apple cider at the back yard party we both attended over the weekend.
I've been working on this post for several days now and it just keeps getting longer and longer and longer and harder to organize, so I think I'm going to make this one focused on the backstory, with the caveat that (a) there's a lot, (b) it's confusing, (c) I may get some of it wrong, and (d) I guarantee I'm missing stuff. (Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that I'm not a journalist: I'm a citizen whose main research tool is Google, and I'm just sharing my research and opinions with the rest of you, often as I'm coming up with them.)
SO. The current board (and the superintendent, Valeria Silva) have done a bunch of things that seriously pissed off a lot of SPPS (St. Paul Public Schools) parents. Some highlights:
1. They moved a lot of kids with emotional and behavioral disorder diagnoses into mainstream classrooms full time. Whether this was a good idea or a bad idea -- SPPS just moving into compliance with existing laws about least-restrictive environments or SPPS going out on a limb with an approach no one else would use in a million years -- not to mention whether these kids were dumped into classrooms with no supports, or given EAs and other help so they could succeed? This depends entirely on who you ask. This reasonably balanced article discusses all those angles and also notes that the kids who were being dumped off in "learning centers" instead of being re-integrated were overwhelmingly black kids. The Bruce Vento elementary special ed coordinator is quoted saying, "We felt that the students had to be perfect before we would let them go [from the LC back to a regular classroom]," and ... yeah, you know, that's not okay, either.
2. The same year, they moved a lot of kids who are English-language learners into mainstream classrooms. Again, whether this was a good idea or a bad idea depends on who you ask. Previously, the kids with limited English proficiency were in sheltered classrooms that focused heavily on learning English and a lot less on content. Board Member Chue Vue (himself a former ELL student) endorses the push-them-into-the-mainstream approach: "Among families of Hmong descent, including his own, the concern has traditionally been that kids ready to tackle mainstream content are lingering in sheltered classes." (Chue is not up for re-election this year.)
The article I linked to mentioned a cooperative model, where both a regular subject teacher and an ELL teacher work together. The teacher who vented to me over the weekend is teaching such a class, but her bilingual assistant finds the subject matter difficult and is basically refusing to do her job. Both the ELL and the EBD mainstreaming is heavily contingent on having good EAs available, and there is also a chronic shortage of EAs, which is not surprising considering that in the last few years they've beefed up the educational requirements but haven't raised the pay.
3. They rolled out iPads to every student, spending $5.5 million the first year and dedicating $8 million in future years. Most of the St. Paul students, at least, are reasonably enthusiastic about this one.
4. They also restructured all their schools to move the 6th graders in with the middle schoolers. This wasn't actually that bad an idea, they just did a crap-ass job preparing for it (like, there were schools where none of the teachers had the right licensure to teach the kids that were arriving.)
5. I think they also did the EBD mainstreaming, ELL mainstreaming, iPad rollout, and 6th grade reshuffle all in the same very busy year. I guess you could argue that you might as well maximize the disruption in a single year and get it over with. That seems to be St. Paul's approach to road maintenance.
6. Then there's the discipline policy. I don't even know what to say about this. Over in Minneapolis, they implemented a policy that said that elementary schoolers can no longer be suspended for non-violent infractions. (Why are elementary school kids ever suspended for non-violent infractions, seriously? I'm sure you'll all be shocked to hear that you are approximately 8 gazillion times more likely to be suspended for non-violent infractions if you're a black kid than if you're a white kid.) Anyway, here in St. Paul....there are a ton of teachers saying that they're no longer allowed to suspend kids due to the district policy, but the Board and Silva have insisted stone-faced that there is no such policy and teachers are totally allowed to suspend kids. Aaron Anthony Benner, formerly outspoken SPPS teacher, then (briefly) active candidate for the Saint Paul School Board, and now Behavior Coach at an area charter school, has a long list of hair-raising stories including one about being punched by a student who was returned to his classroom ten minutes later. Anyway....right now, I think, we've kind of got the worst of both worlds. Teachers are saying they're not being allowed to discipline students for major infractions and yet we still have massive racial disparities in discipline approach.
7. The board approved a new three-year contract for SPPS Superintendant Valeria Silva, who has been controversial, to put it mildly. Shortly after they approved the contract she flirted with taking off for some other district, then a day later said that she was staying in St. Paul. There were a lot of people who were pissed off that they renewed it right before an election, though, thus taking the decision out of the new board's hands.
Back in February when I went to my precinct caucus, one of the groups there was the "Caucus for Change," which had a pretty straightforward "throw the incumbents out" agenda. They did not-exactly-an-endorsement: they gave a general stamp of approval to a bunch of people running, rather than picking their four favorites. There was then a minor drama at the City Convention in April, where after we'd voted on the second ballot a flier was circulated where they'd done an on-the-fly endorsement of Rafael Espinosa and Pa Chua Vang. (It was clear that Zuki Ellis and Steve Marchese were going to get endorsed on the 2nd ballot, and it looked like Mary Vanderwert and Jon Schumacher were on their way to endorsement as well.) It was completely unclear who in the Caucus for Change made this decision or was calling the shots. A few minutes later, another hastily-printed flier went around objecting to the first flier. ("Behind closed doors, a few members of the Caucus for Change made the unilateral decision to encourage support for candidates who are not leading in the delegate voting process. Caucus for Change originally committed to not endorsing candidates. Some members of the group have decided to change this strategy.") Anyway, as far as I can tell, no one paid much attention to either flier.
Caucus for Change is basically the local teacher's union standing behind a curtain. I mean, if you look at their website, they will tell you that they are "a group of parents, educators, students, and community members working together to create stronger schools here in Saint Paul." But scroll down to the bottom and you'll see, "Prepared and paid for by the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education." I had a door-knocker last week who was a Minneapolis teacher who'd been recruited by the union to come over to volunteer to campaign for the DFL-endorsed candidates.
I do kind of get why they WANT a curtain. I'm not anti-MFT. (MFT = Minnesota Federation of Teachers.) Teachers deserve to have their interests represented. But I think it's worth remembering that the job of a teacher's union is to represent teachers, not students. Often, the interests of teachers and students are solidly in alignment (that's a link to a news story about the Seattle teachers demanding daily recess for their students). Sometimes, though, they are not. (That's a link to a news story about NYC's "rubber rooms.") There are a decent number of people who are pro-unions as a general thing but nonetheless have some reservations about union-endorsed school board candidates -- one of the things the board does is negotiate the contract.
In this case, I think that when huge numbers of teachers are incensed about the repeated massive clusterfucks created by the current board, this is something that everyone should be paying attention to.
But there's also this, from the candidate questionnaire on the Caucus for Change site: "Caucus for Change is a group of parents, educators and community members who believe that our voices must be at the center of decision making around educational policy. Despite the belief that local parents and educators know best what our children need in order to learn, there has been an increase of money, often from out of state millionaires, with vested interest in pursuing a corporate education reform agenda. Will you and your campaign reject contributions and independent expenditures from out of state millionaires and corporate education reform organizations?" -- that's actually a question about the groups that backed Don Samuels when he ran for the Minneapolis School Board last year. This is the very first question on their questionnaire -- not anything about the safety of teachers, or the education of students, but "will you side with us against the groups we consider our enemies," which particularly makes me raise my eyebrow given that these groups have shown no interest yet in St. Paul. I'm not pointing this out because I'm a fan of these corporate reformers, but if you're a union-funded group running the union agenda and you're calling yourself "TOTALLY NOT THE TEACHERS' UNION, NO NEED TO LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN" then I will be honest: that bugs me.
One more bit of background before I post this. There are nine people running for four seats, but only five of them have any realistic chance of getting on the board: the four DFL (and Caucus for Change) endorsed candidates, and Keith Hardy, the one incumbent who decided to run without endorsement. There are also three people on the current board who are not up for election, which means that if the challengers win, they'll control the board; if Keith Hardy defeats one of them, the current board will still control the majority of votes. I am not sure on what issues they can be considered a monolith.
I have been dragging my feet on this one, in part because (despite having lived in St. Paul for almost three years now) I know Minneapolis politics better and Minneapolis isn't having an election this November.
Here in St. Paul, we're having a very local set of elections. Citywide, we're voting for school board. We're also voting on our City Council reps, although mine is running unopposed. There's no primary: we have instant runoff for the City Council seat, and it's "pick four, top vote-getters win" for the School Board race. (Both Minneapolis and St. Paul implemented instant runoff for the city offices, but my understanding is that they can't do that for School Board because that process is set by the State Legislature.)
But! It's October 11th, and it's time I start figuring out who the heck I ought to vote for in the school board race, at the very least. (Also, I had a special request for some commentary on the Ward 5 City Council race, plus parking meters are a big issue this year and I would like to take the opportunity to complain about all the stupid stuff St. Paul does with parking restrictions. The Grand/Victoria neighborhood should've had parking meters installed YEARS ago, people. Suck it up.)
Marscon is this weekend. If you live in the Twin Cities and find Convergence fun but have never been to Marscon, you should check it out. If you live in the Twin Cities and quit coming to Convergence because it's too crowded, you should come to Marscon because it's like a much smaller version of Convergence.
Here's my schedule, if you want to find me:
Friday 04:00 pm
How Come Nobody's Heard Of Me, Dammit!!
Room 419 (Krushenko's)
Let’s figure out all the things we did wrong!
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, mod.; Bruce Bethke, Rachel Gold, Michael Merriam
Friday 09:00 pm
Costuming on a Budget
I Blue Heron (Masquerade Lounge)
Costuming has the potential of becoming an expensive hobby (or even career), but it doesn’t have break your budget. We will discuss where to get inexpensive (or free!) materials, DIY, and tips and tricks for taking advantage of the network, barter and trade strategy. Plus we’ll showcase our own thrifty costume creations.
With: Dorianne McCreary, Naomi Kritzer
Saturday 04:00 pm
Lyda Morehouse Interview
Room 419 (Krushenko's)
Learn about the mind and works of our Author Guest of Honor.
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, Interviewer
Saturday 08:00 pm
The Wyrdsmiths: Twenty Years
III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars)
GoH Lyda Morehouse is in a writers' group that was founded in 1994. How does a critique group sustain itself for two decades?
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, mod.; Eleanor Arnason; other members if they show up. (Probably depends on how their weekend is going.)
Sunday 03:00 pm
Convoluted Quests: The Modern Writing Career
III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars)
Book contracts, self-publishing, short fiction, editing... writing careers these days are often made up of a patchwork of options. Join GoH Lyda Morehouse and other professional writers to talk about how they've dealt with current publishing realities.
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, mod.; Bruce Bethke, Roy C. Booth, Michael Merriam, Kathryn Sullivan