A preliminary rundown of the 2013 St. Paul School Board races

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Three spots are open on the St Paul School Board with 6 candidates currently running: Jean O’Connell, David Martinez, Sarah Lechowich, Luis Ortega, Chue Vue, and John Broderick. The April 16 precinct caucuses will determine the convention delegates that will endorse three candidates on June 8. In between, you can expect at least one forum.

School Superintendent Valeria Silva took the helm at Saint Paul Public Schools in 2009, following a not-so-wonderful outside superintendent. She is high energy and dedicated, taking on difficult school closings and still proposing improvement programs. The Republican stealing of funds from education has muddled any true evaluation of St Paul schools or Superintendent Silva. All schools have suffered for lack of funds. Despite high property taxes, St Paul still approved a bond levy demonstrating a commitment to quality public education.

Last night, I captured some quick 30 second pitches from five candidates:

Based on events, mailings, letters and websites, this is the information that I have so far:

Jean O’Connell leads with the accomplishment of the Vote Yes for St Paul Schools campaign. She wants to follow through with keeping the promises given to the voters for those funds. She believes school improve incrementally with hard work and hard analysis. Last campaign, O’Connell came very late into the school board race, yet won with an impressive door-to-door campaign. She has the impressive endorsement of Mayor Chris Coleman, which also implies important political campaign support. This is her retirement mission after working 34 years at 3M. She has the most impressive depth and support when asked questions.

David Martinez is a high-energy candidate who already was at DFL political events long before the other candidates. He worked as Spanish translator within the schools, and has a long list of involvement. His most impressive endorsement is Anne Carroll, previous school board member. Martinez is a success story of the St Paul school systems, coming in as an immigrant from Puerto Rico and then working his way up through an MBA degree. With over 13,000 students learning English with 100 different native languages, Martinez believes that this is greatest current challenge that we are facing in St Paul schools. Martinez handled and engaged with me on tough questions.

Sarah Lechowich is the smoothest speaker which is not surprising given that she is communications specialist. Her handouts and literature have great vision statements, written beautifully, but I did see any detail of how her goals would be achieved. Her issue seems to be the achievement gap, yet when pressed she seemed to lack any plan on how the achievement gap could be fixed. Upon questioning, the answers were non-substantial.

Luis Ortega is very active. He was the only one to call me. Ortega gives his 30 years of experience in the St Paul schools as a reason to vote for him. He seems like he is on a job interview instead of running for a political office. His main issue is access. The responses to my questions were non-substantial.

Chue Vue is one of those candidates who I innately trusted. He is a lawyer, very active in the Hmong community. His pitch was that he had the perspective of an immigrant. He is concerned about the achievement gap. The responses to my questions were non-substantial.

John Broderick in an incumbent, who speaks eloquently and writes handwritten notes to prospective delegates. He is very high in the charm category. When asked what his goal was, he said to “continue”. In his literature is the statement, “Our teachers are not the problem, they are the solution”. So while I agree, I was also wondering if this was a dog whistle that no matter how low you are ranked as a teacher, you can count on John Broderick to help you keep your job. Most of us, who are concerned with education, are struggling with how to balance accountability with security in supporting teachers. Another statement, “the Saint Paul Public Schools are not the problem, they are the solution.” leads me to think that he is a status-quo candidate. As an incumbent with large list of endorsements, I expect he will “continue”.

This is simply a first pass on listening to the school board candidates. I expect there will be far more information in a few weeks. Given that some of the candidates are new to politics, my whole impression could change.