Candidates line up for opening on Mankato School Board

The conventional wisdom has it that school board meetings have become so contentious, even dangerous, that new candidates will be scared off, afraid to run for the position. The media frequently note that a record number of school board members have stepped down this year, citing threats and stress as a factor in some cases.

No question more parents have begun attending school board meetings to raise questions about the curriculum and accountability, resulting in heated exchanges and removal in a few instances. Nor has the Mankato School Board been immune from the trend, holding several acrimonious meetings that received widespread attention this school year.

Yet judging from the response to a board member’s recent resignation due to relocation, there’s no indication of dampened interest in serving on the Mankato School Board in the nonpartisan position. If anything, just the opposite, as eight applicants rushed to file for the vacancy, according to the Free Press.

“It was great that so many people were interested,” said Stacy Wells, the school district’s director of communications. “We’ve had very tough School Board meetings over the last couple of years, so we’re happy there are still people willing to sit on the board.”

Wells named COVID-19 and its surrounding issues such as masking, distance learning and testing as a hot-button topic, as well as critical race theory. Wells said all of the national news bulletins have played out in the Mankato School Board chambers as well with members of the public coming to speak at meetings.

It may be the increased engagement on the part of the public over the district’s pandemic policies, as well as academic issues, have stirred up more interest in serving on the board. Current school board members will choose the individual from the eight applicants to serve out the remainder of the vacant position that runs through 2024.

Wells said in her opinion, this is one way for community members to show they want to be involved in helping the district meet the needs of students, families, staff and the larger community. “Everyone has a different reason for doing it,” she said.

She said it’s a unique post as it’s considered a nonpartisan civic leader position.

“This is a great way for someone to get their toes wet,” Wells said, “and see if it’s something they actually want to do through a campaign process and an election. Or they may serve a few months and decide this isn’t for me.”

For those who want to run for school board in their district and do have to run a campaign, there’s a new group that’s formed to help them get off on the right foot. Minnesota Parents Alliance recently held its first training session for school board candidates and plans to serve as a resource throughout the summer and fall.