Updated: 9:00 a.m.
Amid concerns that a rising number of candidates with extreme views are seeking school board seats in Minnesota, groups across the political spectrum continue to organize and promote candidates that back their views.
The latest: the Minnesota School Board Integrity Project, a non-profit that’s raising money and training candidates for board elections.
“We know that there is a concerted effort to take over our school boards. This is not Florida, this is not Texas, this is Minnesota,” Kyrstin Schuette, executive director of the School Board Integrity Project, told supporters Monday.
School supporters, she said, need to watch out for candidates who say they want parents to have a voice in schools but may be focused on eroding public education.
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Schuette, who worked for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and has served as the DFL’s coordinated campaign political director, is leading the group which was registered in August and has been working with 65 candidates in 14 districts across the state.
Other DFLers aligned with the newly launched PAC include Christopher Kluthe, a political consultant who advised Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig’s campaign and State Auditor Julie Blaha, who spoke Tuesday in support of the organization.
“I think our values are in opposition to them. I don’t think it’s Democrats vs. Republicans, progressives vs. conservatives. I see this as right vs. wrong,” Schuette said.
Minnesota Parents Alliance founder Cristine Trooien has said the School Board Integrity Project appears to be a “flattering, albeit desperate” attempt to emulate her group’s own model. In an email to MPR News she said the groups’ strategy appears to be “distracting voters from serious concerns about school safety and academic decline by focusing on identity politics, and attempting to stoke fear and division with false claims that their opponents are ‘holocaust deniers’ and ‘white Christian nationalists’ — hardly an attempt to turn down the temperature or reflect any of the values they claim to support.“
The School Board Integrity Project did not participate in a news conference last week held by the state teacher’s union and advocacy groups that warned voters to beware of extremist candidates.
Trooien said that the alliance and the candidates it supports are focused on “academic achievement and safety through supporting parental involvement, parent-teacher partnership and accountability.”
One of the School Board Integrity Project candidates, Anna Williams, is running for one of four open board seats in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district. She said she got involved in her district during the pandemic when she started seeing parents show up to school board meetings to fight against mask mandates, raise concerns about critical race theory and push back against diversity, equity and inclusion work in the district. She decided to jump into the race.
“Seeing what was happening all over the country, and seeing how an attack on our public education is really an attack on our democracy. It is the foundation of our democracy. I thought, ‘I gotta put aside my anxiety and my fear,’” Williams said.
In Mounds View, one school board candidate dropped out after failing to secure the endorsement of his local teacher union because, as he said in a statement on his site, “Without the endorsement of the Mounds View Education Association, my campaign would face significant hurdles in getting the numbers and resources needed to win.”
The Minnesota Parents Alliance, a conservative group that launched in 2022 to recruit, train and endorse school board candidates last year, has endorsed more than 40 candidates in 20 different districts as well as invested time training candidates.
Education Minnesota has put together a list of dozens of school board candidates endorsed by local unions in 11 districts. And OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group has made candidate endorsements in 17 districts.
Correction (Oct. 4, 2023): An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the legal status of the School Board Integrity Project. The story has been updated.