Voters elect four to St. Paul school board, incumbent Ellis loses seat – Twin Cities

Two incumbents were on the ballot for the St. Paul school board Tuesday night, but unofficial election results indicate only one will return in January.

With 86 of 86 precincts reporting their votes on Tuesday evening, newcomer Carlo Franco received 21% of the vote. Incumbent Chauntyll Allen followed with 19%, and newcomers Yusef Carrillo and Erica Valliant appeared to have secured the seats with about 17% support each.

The four Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party-backed candidates ultimately received the most votes of the seven candidates on the ballot. Four seats were up for election.

Zuki Ellis, who has served on the St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education since she was elected in 2015, appears to have lost her seat. She had about 14% of the vote late Tuesday.

The other two candidates had single-digit approval ratings, Gita Rijal Zeitler at 8% and Abdi Omer at 4%.

Ellis was elected to the school board in 2015 and challenged incumbent Sen. Sandy Pappas, a DFLer from St. Paul, in a 2022 primary. Ellis received no support from the DFL in the school board election.

The members of the school board are elected for four-year terms and represent the entire city. The positions are nonpartisan, although most candidates were endorsed by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or affiliated organizations.

Incumbents Jeanelle Foster and Jessica Kopp did not run for re-election. Members Halla Henderson, Jim Vue and Uriah Ward will face re-election in 2025. The term of office of the newly elected members begins in January.

Enrollment, security, funding

Tuesday’s election came as St. Paul Public Schools, Minnesota’s second-largest school district, faces declining enrollment and rising costs.

The district has about 33,000 students, about 4,000 fewer than a decade ago, a decline that comes as costs continue to rise due to inflation. School board members approved a $1 billion budget earlier this year, the district’s largest budget in history.

Some parents blame the decline in enrollment on the challenges posed by online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, new schedules and growing competition from charter schools. To address enrollment declines, the district has approved school consolidations that advocates say could address enrollment declines by creating more “balanced” schools.

Other issues in the race included school safety and declining high school graduation rates.

School funding was a big issue for voters in attendance at the Highland Park Community Center Tuesday afternoon. One said he believed schools were “chronically underfunded.”

“We need to address the problem with money,” said Ben Hecker, 44. “Without a significant influx of money from levels above the city, we will just be talking about the problem instead of doing anything.”

John Motis, 42, said schools should get more money for accessibility and safety.

“(We need) adequate funding for resources in and out of the classroom and for special needs so that teachers can worry less about those things and more about the task of teaching,” he said.

Frederick Melo and Caleb Hensin contributed to this report.

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