Local reporters miss the real election story: teacher union slates

In the aftermath of the election last week, several drive-by news outlets ran stories about the poor performance of conservative “slates” of candidates in suburban school board races. As the narrative goes, voters in Minnesota rejected candidates running against Critical Race Theory and mask mandates in schools. Local journalists cherry-picked districts to fit the narrative and ignored conservative victories in the state’s largest school districts, like Matt Audette winning in Anoka-Hennepin and Cinta Schmitz winning in Lakeville.

Local reporters could have written about the Hastings school board election, where three conservative candidates successfully ran together on a so-called “slate.” Carrie Banaszewski Tate, Mike Reis and Jessica Dressely ran on a platform that said schools should be politically neutral and criticized the new equity push in the district as divisive.

Other anti-CRT candidates also won election to school boards across the state:

  • Maureen Eigen in Alexandria
  • Beth Beebe in Bloomington
  • Eric Tessmer in South Washington County
  • Michael Kreun in Spring Lake Park

More importantly, the stories all left out the real power behind slates of candidates in local school board elections: the teachers’ union. Union backed slates are nothing new in Minnesota and they were quite successful in the 2021 election.

In Edina, the teachers’ union slate won all four seats, knocking out incumbent Owen Michaelson in the process.

In the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, the teachers’ union ran the table with their slate of candidates.

In White Bear Lake, the teachers’ union slate ran the table, running a coordinated campaign that included several mailings promoting their four candidates. With the victory, four out of six school board members are now teachers by profession. Their biggest job? Negotiate a contract with the teachers’ union for pay and benefits.

In the South Washington County School District, which serves Woodbury, three candidates on the union-backed slate prevailed. Eric Tessmer somehow broke through the union’s coordinated campaign and stole a seat on the board. Union-backed Patricia Driscoll is a career teacher and administrator and union-backed Sharon Van Leer worked as director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

In the Anoka-Hennepin School district (the state’s largest), the voters split their vote, with union-endorsed candidates Kacy Deschene and Jeff Simon winning, while Matt Audette somehow beat union-backed Dave Dirkswager in District 4.

The narrative that candidate slates are a new phenomenon in school board elections is false. The teachers’ union has been using slates to win school board races for years. The 2021 election was the first time anyone actually pushed back.

The narrative that conservative candidates opposed to CRT lost on election night is also false. Many candidates broke through against the education cartel and will be sworn in next January.

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht recently told the Minnesota Reformer: “This was just the start of ramping up toward the election in 2022,” she said. “I think we’ll see more of these divisions and conversations all over the place.”

On that point, we agree.