Get to know the school board race candidates


School board
member at-large
4 year Elect 3

James Farnsworth
1) Priorities:
Three top priorities:
1. Good Governance: Transparency and oversight, fiscal accountability and stewardship, and strong enrollment strategies. A core tenant of school board service is fiduciary management of the school district. With continued declining enrollment, especially as a result of COVID-19, a key focus of my service will be ensuring we use our financial resources wisely and make key, student centric investments in areas where the district will receive high return.
2. Educational Equity: Disrupting institutional and systemic racism, legislative lobbying for fully funded public schools, and a comprehensive school safety plan. Combating racist systems that disenfranchise our most marginalized and underrepresented communities must be at the center of everything we do as a district.
3. Restoring Academic Excellence: Ensuring robust legally mandated supports for ELL and SPED students, implementing culturally competent ethnic studies curriculum districtwide, and comprehensive art and music education for all students.
2) Budget:
First off, I strongly support the immediate re-implementation of the Saint Paul Public Schools Budget and Finance Advisory Committee (BFAC) which advises the Superintendent and his team on district budget priorities and decisions. Participatory budgeting is a framework that I’d like to see more embraced by the school district as a way to increase transparency and accountability. While the yearly budget process exists primarily at the local building level (based on broader guidelines and framework from district administration), the process as a whole from a public participation standpoint is scattered at best. I would like to see a more consistent engagement process across the district that includes support for families who need additional accommodations (interpreters, translation services, etc.) that want to participate.
3) Safety:
At this moment in time, there continues to be concerns surrounding the health and safety of students, staff, and faculty in buildings due to the shifting landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of the Delta variant, I would say that COVID-19 and the surrounding physical, mental, and emotional aspects of how folks interact with the pandemic is the most pressing safety issue in our district.
In terms of how to approach it, I believe the school board plays a critical role in setting goals accompanied by measurable outcomes (through a process with ample community engagement) and then measuring those outcomes and adjusting course accordingly. Some specific areas include investments in increased mental health staffing, adjusting our district facilities master plan to account for “lessons learned” in how we use our school buildings and other district spaces, and in the short term, making sure we continue to have resources available for educators who need additional supplies and materials to feel safe teaching in the classroom in the face of variant uncertainty.

Halla Henderson
1) Priorities:
As we transition into the school year, it’s crucial that we meet the needs of our students and educators by providing them with the resources they need to be successful. For the past year, the district has existed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and I’m feeling a sense of urgency around the resources that we provide our students as they return to classrooms. Ensuring they have access to quality mental health supports, trauma-informed care, and support for our educators and staff is an immediate priority. Additionally, addressing long-standing issues such as enrollment declines and supporting the investigation into the impact of charter schools in our city is a top priority. Finally, working to develop deeper and more inclusive relationships with our students, educators and community members within the governing process is a constant challenge and priority for me.
2) Budget:
In conversations with community members about the health of our district and the budget, a point of frustration I hear frequently is when and how we distribute information. By beginning communication early with community members, holding conversations about the needs in our buildings, and pushing for deeper accountability and transparency from administration, we can contribute to a system that is rooted in governance with voters as opposed to governing for voters.
3) Safety:
I am a firm believer that our safest schools are ones where our students can focus on their academics and proximity to harm is minimized. I believe that the ending of the contract with our School Resource Officers was a step in that direction. When I imagine a school setting where students feel safe in our buildings, it’s one where we invest in mental health supports and proactive measures and move away from punitive ones. When we invest in additional Restorative Coordinators and Community Intervention Workers as opposed to relying on suspensions we shift the way our students view their experiences at school and how we engage in student-adult communication. For years, the conversation around school safety has been used against BIPOC students and to reconcile some of the harm that has been caused by that, we need to actively challenge the notion that police in our buildings is what protects our communities. I feel that the best way to address the concerns over school safety and the relationship our BIPOC community has with historically, police-centered safety measures is by continuing to meet our community where they are at and build policies and plans with those most impacted by them.

Jennifer McPherson
1) Priorities:
New leadership, internal bullying, fair education, school choice, reparations, new curriculum, HBCU inclusion.
2) Budget:
What can be done better and with more transparency to voters? I would like to see the funding rearranged with students being the focus. Being open and honest allows the voters to have a say in making the budget and the actual spending every year public information.
3) Safety:
Lack of protection against school intruders and no emergency response team. Add an emergency response team and put safety measures in all schools.

Jim Vue
1) Priorities:
First, I want to implement equitable engagement practices to support communication between parents and their school leaders as well as between parents and the board of education. In addition, I want to introduce ethnic studies as a graduation requirement. Finally, I want to ensure all students have access to a well-rounded education that supplements core subjects such as reading, math and writing with science, physical education, social studies and arts. We have many languages and world experiences that our families bring into our buildings. I think those languages and world experiences should be utilized as assets by which our families can develop a strong connection with SPPS. Ethnic studies has the potential to incorporate those experiences into the classroom setting. The more our students see their experiences reflected in the content of their learning, the more successful they will be after they graduate and move onto post secondary college or careers.
2) Budget:
From my experience as a parent in the district as well as an active board member, I’ve learned that by the time budget decisions are made by individual school buildings in May, those decisions have mostly been decided already. This is very frustrating and confusing to students and parents. I propose SPPS implement an after action review that evaluates if those cuts achieved its intended outcomes. This review will include how that school has redirected students and staff who were most impacted by the cut, what or if the school received any other resources in return for the cuts, and to what extent subsequent programs that replaced the cut programs improve student outcomes. This review will also include reports about on-going engagement with students, teachers and administrators from the building. This after action review will be included in the quarterly budget reports that the school board receives so that we are informed about the impact of the previous budget cuts and that it may guide us for the current budget decisions.
3) Safety:
Governor Walz’s Safe Learning Plan expired as of June this year and will not be continued into this school year. It is up to the school board to ensure that we safely open our schools this fall. Recently in August, I along with the six current board members approved a mask mandate for SPPS. To safely open schools this fall, we still maintain that social distancing of 3 feet or more is recommended and our COVID-19 reporting system from last year remains in place. However, I think encouraging vaccinations among the entirety of our staff and to as many 12 or older students as possible will go a long way in ensuring that folks don’t get hospitalized from the spread of COVID-19 and so that our school buildings will remain open. However, there still remains our group of students age 11 or younger that are ineligible for vaccination. For this reason, I would support creating a resolution that would mandate that all SPPS employees be vaccinated.

Uriah Ward
1) Priorities:
I’m a former teacher and I got into this race because I believe that every single child, regardless of background, deserves a high-quality education. We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to address student needs. We need to reduce class sizes and invest in mental health supports so that students receive more individual attention. We need to make sure that our curriculum reflects the diversity of our district and that we’re cultivating a nurturing and welcoming learning environment for all of our students. As much as possible, we need to direct our resources to where they’ll have the biggest direct impact on our students.
2) Budget:
To build a budget that reflects the needs of our district, we need to work intentionally to gather feedback from our students, parents, staff, and community members. We should provide a variety of opportunities to provide feedback and should work to publicize those. We should work intentionally to make certain that our community members who do not speak English are able to participate equally in this process.
From the feedback we collect, we should develop budgetary priorities so that district leadership has guidance when working to craft the details of the budget proposal. We should continue to publicize each step in the budgeting process and should seek public feedback on each draft of the budget.
As a School Board member, I would also work proactively to share the details of the budgeting process with our community and would encourage everyone to engage and provide feedback. I’d want to make sure that the details of the budget were easily accessible for people to review and critique.
3) Safety:
When I taught, I had to de-escalate violence in school. Students will sometimes fight and misbehave. Our tendency has been to lean on punitive responses. But if we want to serve those students and stop those behaviors, we need to address our students holistically. We should invest in mental health supports so that we can get to the ‘why’ of misbehavior and address it.
Perhaps the largest safety concern facing SPPS in this moment is COVID-19. The Delta variant appears to be spreading through schools across the country. To be as safe as possible, we need mask and vaccine mandates. As I’m writing this, masks have been required for everyone in our school buildings. I’m hopeful that SPPS will require vaccines for all of our staff and that we can move toward vaccinating our students as the vaccines are approved for them. For anyone in SPPS who is unable to vaccinate, we should provide regular COVID tests so we can catch cases quickly and respond as necessary.

Ryan Williams
1) Priorities:
COVID safety and adaptability is a top priority. Honesty is needed with the lack of space for physical distancing inhibiting contact tracing. In the contact tracing and notification procedures we must inform students and staff of the times contact tracers are unable to confirm necessary physical distancing was provided. As the candidate that has been in schools with students every month of the pandemic I prioritize getting the board up to speed on where written policies don’t meet reality.
Updating board policies to meet state statutes is a priority. Over the decades a few of the board’s policies have not been updated to meet state statutes;
Protecting students and staff from assault is a top priority. I will guide the board to comply with state statute 121A.61 for the board to adopt a policy provision that states a student must be removed from class immediately if the student engages in assault or violent behavior.
MN statute 123b.91 has required the district to adopt policy provisions governing bus monitor qualifications, training, and duties for 3 decades. Not meeting the standards has created a bus driver shortage. It is time to meet the statute requirements.
Adopting a board policy for documenting all physical restraints of students should be everyone’s priority. If the incident is serious enough to restrain, the incident is serious enough to document. We must shine a light on secret restraints. Bringing restraints out of the shadows will help us identify the source of the problems.
We must expand district child care to accommodate our families. It is unreasonable to have low income students bus to a different school for childcare. More childcare locations are desperately needed.
Obviously the 5-year lead in water tests is a priority. We should catch up on the requirements for testing the water for lead, No excuses.
2) Budget:
Financial transparency is desperately needed. It is time to rebuild trust with the community. We should start with the board. It is hard to find board compensation. The board recently nearly doubled their annual pay to around $20,000 a year for a few meetings a month. If the board is shy about making their compensation easy to find we can’t expect much information about the larger expenses.
The board should make all chapter 13 public data requests available to the community on the district website. If there is a reason someone requests data there is a reason for the public to know. This would be a first step towards building trust and transparency.
The recent construction cost error is an embarrassment. We should go back to basics. The 5 year lead in water testing is past due. The board can show competence and transparency by testing the water for lead and publishing the results. After we trust the board to test the water for lead we can discuss larger expenses.
3) Safety:
I am deeply concerned that not a single school board member has worked with students in a school during the pandemic. The lack of real world experiences creates a disconnect between written policies and the realities of school buildings. I have been working in schools in person with students every month of the pandemic. I look forward to bringing real world experience to the board.
The lack of board policy on documenting all restraints of students is a danger to students and staff. The board must take responsibility for the safety of students and staff by adopting a policy covering the documentation procedures.
The lack of an assault / violence removal policy is an inexcusable safety concern. This is a state statute we are required to follow.
Falling behind on lead in water testing is a concern.
The lack of adequate space for busing and childcare is a daily safety concern.
Candidates asking constituents to go door to door for them. This is a dark preview of board members asking staff to take risks they are not willing to take. Sending constituents to not physical distance is just as bad as sending school staff to not physical distance. We need a board that will put stopping the spread before personal gain.

School board
member at-large -
2 year Elect 1

Jeanelle Foster
1) Priorities:
My priorities remain similar to my previous election as our work is not done. Systems change takes time. I remain focused on keeping children, their outcomes and equity at the center of our decision making; Continuing to work together to build trust within the relationships of the board, administration, staff and families in SPPS; Continuing to challenge and engage the system to have more responsive and reflective engagement so that all kids and families are able to navigate within SPPS and be successful.
2) Budget:
Under my leadership, we have moved to a priority based budget so that we will know what we are paying for upfront. We are currently in our second year of implementation. This process requires more points of contact called ‘gates checks’ so we are regularly reviewing and openly sharing our budgetary process with the community.
The district continues to find ways for more transparency, such as the creation of an online database that the community can view and see budget line items. However, we still must work to have a variety of options and different ways to access the information as many of our families do not navigate the technological landscape. It is our responsibility to be in continuous communication with these communities and to find methods that allow them to be as active as they want to be in the budgetary process.
3) Safety:
Getting our children and staff back in school during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and working to mitigate its impact are our primary health and safety needs. The best way to face these concerns is to use the data and science to guide us in creating proactive vs. reactive safety protocols, processes and procedures. It is essential to continue to have on-going active communications with all stakeholders in our SPPS community and be prepared to have the flexibility to adapt and change as new and on-going information comes in to guide our decisions.

Clayton Howatt
1) Priorities:
I have three main priorities if elected; equity, enrollment, and finances. I have laid out specific strategies in all three of these areas, those can be found on our online platforms. Here are the broad concerns in those three areas.
We continue to see no real improvement in educational outcomes for the majority of our Black and Brown students. We have what one could conclude is a two tiered elementary system. We have schools that have high percentages of students in poverty that have less educational opportunities and lower expectations than elementary schools with higher percentages of affluent and/or White students. This is clearly inequitable.
St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) continues to see enrollment losses. In my opinion there are three main reasons for this. SPPS needs to become more responsive to our families. The State of MN needs to increase funding for k-12 education. We need to address unchecked charter school expansion in St. Paul.
SPPS continues to see perennial deficits. We can not continue to operate in this manner. We require a robust conversation in our broader community about the role of public education and what we need to do to support those beliefs.
2) Budget:
As a member of the SPPS Budget Finance Advisory Committee for three consecutive years I gained a further understanding of the often times opaque SPPS budget process. I would like to see the following changes.
First, there needs to be an understanding of why we the invest resources we do. The number one goal is to improve out comes for our all of our students. That also means that the students with the highest needs require a higher level of investment. Our budget needs to reflect those two foundational goals.
To do this transparently I would request that SPPS layout handful of specific investments they plan to pursue. In the short to midterm. The key is “specific.” Secondly I would like to have SPPS release the “real” budgets of every school each spring, and not the “building allocations” that happen now. The real budget would include the costs that are actually included in running each school such as transportation, teacher salaries, funds generated by parent groups, etc. This will enable citizens to see that we are spending tax dollars equitably and it will provide the baseline for the increased investments laid out by the district.
3) Safety:
Without question the number one safety concern facing SPPS right now is COVID.
I am in favor of the current mask mandate for all k-12 students. The mandate should be lifted when the scientists at the MN Department of Health, and elsewhere, say it is safe and the St. Paul School Board votes on a resolution to do so. I am in favor of a policy that mandates either vaccinations or weekly tests of our employees. I am also in favor of at least two improvements in the area of communication.
There continues to be many questions and concerns from parents around our HVAC systems in our schools and air circulation within individual classrooms and common areas such as lunch rooms and gymnasiums. There needs to be a more robust process put in place to communicate to the constant concerns of parents, many of which are real legitimate concerns. We should provide not “code minimum” but provide above the minimum required to keep our students and staff safe.
I would also like to see one single online location that will report COVID outbreaks and quarantines across our district. It could simply say, “school X quarantined a single classroom on the following date, there were no hospitalizations.” This could also allow a clear process to add additional safety measures in specific schools that may be experiencing higher numbers of outbreaks for whatever reason and communicate that clearly to our families.



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