Heated campaign for Rochester School Board spills onto streets

The closer Election Day comes, the more media attention than ever appears to be focused on local school board elections this year. Take Rochester, where American Experiment’s Bill Walsh revealed an S.O.S. email from the teachers union to members this week urging them to attend a Rochester School Board meeting to show support for the incumbents vying for three of the four seats up for grabs next week.

The school board election is heating up and this one will have real consequences if it goes the wrong way. Do you want to be told what books and materials you can use in your classroom? Do you want to be told that we cannot support students based on their gender identity? Do you want to be accused of sexualizing and grooming children? Do you want to turn in all of your lesson plans at the start of the year for public scrutiny?

In a sign of the apparent competitiveness of the races, supporters for the incumbent school board members and the four candidates challenging the status quo yesterday took the campaign to the Rochester streets. They lined up on the curb outside district headquarters in an impromptu rally covered by the Post Bulletin.

The crowd, which amounted to roughly 40 people, lined the sidewalk outside the school district’s Edison Administration Building, hoping to raise support for what they see as an important crossroads. Supporters for opposing candidates stood side by side in some cases, waving signs at drivers passing by.

Among them was Simon Glaser, a longtime member of the Rochester Education Association, which is the local teachers union.

“I just can’t believe that important decisions about what happens with our children come down to whether somebody remembers a name they saw on a sign for a second as they were driving up Sixth Street,” Glaser said. “If that’s the way it works, I’ll stand out here with a sign.”

Union member comments reveal just how much the increased level of parental involvement in the electoral process has unnerved the union. It’s a new dynamic in play in numerous school districts around the state as parents demand more transparency and influence over what’s taught in their children’s classrooms.

Supporters for both sides say they see this as a pivotal election. And each side seems equally as apprehensive about the candidates they don’t support.

Jan Throndson was among the supporters for the bloc of four challengers. He said the school district needs new leadership to help it overcome from its streak of sliding academic performance.

Although most of the supporters were there for school board candidates specifically, Throndson considers that election just one piece of a larger picture.

“We want to take America back,” he said.

The intensity in school board races this year marks a turning point in how Minnesotans view their schools. American Experiment’s newly released “Thinking Minnesota” poll shows 51 percent of Minnesotans do not have confidence in their school board.