Campaign for control of state’s largest school district kicks off

The Anoka-Hennepin chapter of Education Minnesota -- the teachers union -- publicly endorsed their slate last week, a full five days before the election filing period began.

Education Minnesota's headquarters in St. Paul, Minn. (Alpha News)

The filing period for the November local elections officially opened this week and candidates in a few, highly visible and hotly-contested school board races have already lined up influential endorsements prior to submitting their filing papers.

local chapter of Education Minnesota has endorsed a slate of three school board candidates in the Anoka-Hennepin School District (ISD 11), the state’s largest school district, before any of them — or any of their prospective opponents — could even file for the upcoming November election. At the same time, a local parents group, Anoka-Hennepin Parents Alliance, has also endorsed three of their own candidates and began publicly promoting their campaigns last month.

Five of those six candidates had officially filed for office as of Thursday, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State election filing website. The Anoka-Hennepin chapter of Education Minnesota (AHEM) — the teachers union — publicly endorsed their slate last week, a full five days before the election filing period began. The state-mandated filing period for local school board elections began on Aug. 1. It closes on Aug. 15. The Minnesota Secretary of State has a candidate filing webpage that publishes filings for each district as they are processed.

In Anoka-Hennepin the candidates being promoted by the local teachers union and parents organization are as follows:

Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota:

  • Erin Heers-McCardle (District 1 seat)
  • Kimball Newton (District 2 seat)
  • Michelle Langenfeld (District 5 seat)

Anoka-Hennepin Parents Alliance:

On July 28, AHEM — which serves as the local chapter for the state teachers union — promoted a “Meet Your Anoka-Hennepin School Board Candidates” event that took place on Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Alloy Brewing in Coon Rapids. In the social media post the local union listed incumbent Erin Heers-McCardle along with Kimball Newton and Michelle Langenfeld as “Education Minnesota Endorsed!” The event at Alloy Brewing was co-hosted by Indivisible North Metro, a left-leaning political action group that supports Democrats, and John Brillhart, chair for the Anoka County DFL.

A Facebook post for the event encourages the community to “bring yourself, your progressive/sane friends, and your willingness to volunteer and/or donate as we get to know our candidates for Anoka-Hennepin School Board.”

That a local teachers union would publicly endorse candidates for school board prior to the election filing period opening is not typical, even in districts where factions of voters may rally around specific candidates early in the campaign cycle, said Sarah Patzloff, a former two-term school board member for Edina Public Schools.

“Clearly, the teachers union, or any organization with that much influence, if they have already chosen their candidates before anyone has even filed for office, they don’t know who might raise their hand and be a good candidate, maybe even the best candidate,” said Patzloff, who was elected in 2011 and 2015, and unseated in a hotly contested election in 2019. She said in her three Edina school board campaigns, the local chapter for Education Minnesota at least offered the opportunity for all candidates to interview and seek its endorsement after the filing period had closed.

“Why would you pre-vet and endorse candidates before everyone has had a chance to file?” she said. “That would be intimidating for others who may want to run but haven’t filed yet.”

Representatives for Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota did not return requests for comment by the time of publication, nor did Brillhart of the Anoka County DFL.

When ‘non-partisan’ elections become political

Anoka-Hennepin isn’t the only school district with local organizations that have already endorsed candidates before they are statutorily allowed to file for office.

In Hastings ISD 200, a local organization calling itself “200 Strong” was launched earlier this year in what its founder told local media was a response to a slate of “conservative” candidates who won election on the Hastings School Board. On July 26, 200 Strong announced its public endorsement of four candidates said to be running for four seats on the school board. The organization debuted its website on July 30 promoting that slate of candidates. It’s not known if 200 Strong has any connections to political parties or Education Minnesota.

Other organizations new to the scene as of the 2022 election cycle, like the Minnesota Parents Alliance, have also worked to help cultivate candidates across the state that it provides resources to leading up to and during a campaign for school board. But its executive director, Cristine Trooien, says her organization does not make endorsements prior to the election filing period closing, but in late August releases a voter guide after it’s had an opportunity to vet candidates for various school board elections. Trooien said the Anoka-Hennepin Parents Alliance is an autonomous local organization that “named their group to signal alignment with our organization,” but said it does not have an official chapter agreement with Minnesota Parents Alliance. She said non-partisan grassroots organizations that coalesce around school board candidates is a far cry from a teachers union seemingly aligning itself with political parties in promoting their own slate.

“What’s most concerning is that [the local Anoka-Hennepin] Education Minnesota chapter has made it known ‘these are our endorsed candidates,’ and that an activist DFL group looks to Education Minnesota for their endorsed candidates and then hosts an event for them,” Trooien said. “And that was [all organized] even before the filing period even started. It just sends a clear message to others who might consider running to ‘stand back, we’ve already got our three people.’”

Despite that notion, Trooien said that candidates will continue to file in the coming days, and some may even wait until the last day on Aug. 15 to make it official.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of last-minute filings, especially across the metro,” she said.

In addition to Anoka-Hennepin and Hastings, some of the other school board races to watch this cycle include Bloomington (ISD 271), Edina (ISD 273), Hastings (ISD 200), Wayzata (ISD 284), Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan (ISD 196) and South Washington County (ISD 833).

Last fall, Education Minnesota president Denise Specht wrote a letter to some of the teachers union’s local school district chapters calling on its teacher members and leadership to “participate in your screen process” for school board candidates, and encouraged them to be “engaged in your school board races.”

“Although it may not feel like it sometimes, the majority of Minnesota voters value the considered recommendations of educators over the wild accusations of the MAGA media — but those voters must hear from their educators, clearly and repeatedly, if they are to act on those recommendations on Election Day,” Specht wrote in a Sept. 16, 2022 letter distributed to some local Education Minnesota affiliates.

Sheila Qualls contributed reporting to this story. 


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.