Political consultants with DFL ties form new org to support school board candidates

The School Board Integrity Project says it's training more than 50 candidates running in more than a dozen school board races.

school board
FILE - Parents and community members fill the Osseo board room in June 2022 during a discussion on an LGBTQIA+ resolution.

new organization fronted by two Democrat-allied political consultants has entered the battleground for political control of school boards holding elections this fall.

The Minneapolis-based School Board Integrity Project was officially formed in May. Its mission, according to its website, is to help “guide potential and registered candidates and incumbents who align with our principles and equip them with the tools they need in their ‘campaign toolboxes’ in order to run successful school board campaigns.”

The founders for the 501(c)(4) organization contended, when reached by Alpha News, that the group is “not partisan.”

While the School Board Integrity Project has been active on social media in recent weeks, it has yet to publicly declare which candidates (or how many) it is helping for any of the 28 school board races on the ballot this November across Minnesota. The organization did reveal in a Facebook post on Tuesday that it has helped “train” more than 50 school board candidates who represent more than a dozen district races. Its entry into the school board elections cycle comes at a time when Education Minnesota, the union that represents public school teachers, is increasing its involvement in the endorsement and support of school board candidates in some of the most visible races across the Twin Cities.

It also comes as the Minnesota Parents Alliance, a 501(c)(4) that formed in 2022, continues its mission to provide support for candidates “who are aligned with our mission of prioritizing academic achievement, equality and parental rights in their school district.”

Listed agents for the School Board Integrity Project’s filing with the state are Leili Fatehi and Kyrstin Schuette, principal owners for the Minneapolis-based Apparatus. That filing lists a downtown Minneapolis address that also houses the Apparatus office.

list of recent clients for Apparatus includes: the DFL Party and more than a half dozen campaigns for DFL candidates for municipal office and state legislature. The firm was hired to consult the campaigns of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, state Rep. Sandra Feist, and a number of other DFLers. Its public client portfolio does not include campaigns representing candidates with any other political party affiliations, although it has consulted campaigns for other officially non-partisan elected seats.

Despite that DFL-affiliated client list, the Apparatus duo who filed the paperwork to form the School Board Integrity Project earlier this year dismissed any notion, when contacted by Alpha News this week, that the new organization has partisan leanings.

“(O)ur guiding principles of integrity, respect, excellence, and belonging are — or, at least, should be — universal, not partisan,” said Schuette, who serves as political advocacy director for Apparatus and is a listed agent for the School Board Integrity Project. “If these values are seen as divisive by some, it’s time to reevaluate what partisanship truly means. At the heart of our mission, always, are the students.”

Politically-charged school board races across several metro communities

The School Board Integrity Project enters the fray at a time when contentious school board elections are taking place in a number of the most closely watched Twin Cities-based school districts, such as Anoka-Hennepin, South Washington County, District 196 (Eagan, Apple Valley, Rosemount), Wayzata, Hastings and St. Paul.

Even though it’s an “off-cycle” election year and only 28 of the state’s 327 school districts have a board election coming up, 15 of those 28 districts represent more than half of the most populous districts in the state, according to state demography reports. Some say that’s not a coincidence, as it is politically advantageous for high-profile school districts to hold elections in “odd” years where voter turnout is historically low and fewer voters are interested in becoming engaged when only one or two races are on the ballot.

Those in circles that are paying close attention to school board politics in Twin Cities school districts say the School Board Integrity Project is a politically “progressive” answer to the Minnesota Parents Alliance, which has been categorized by some as a philosophically conservative push back on Education Minnesota. Late last month, the organization began publishing a list of candidates it is endorsing for upcoming school board races.

When asked about what kind of funding the School Board Integrity Project is receiving so that it can provide campaign resources to candidates who align with its principles, Schuette and Fatehi didn’t provide an answer. Schuette did admit that part of the organization’s aim is to provide a counterbalance in what she says is a “calculated conservative push to nationalize and radicalize our school boards.”

“We proudly champion the majority of Minnesotans who value our state’s tradition of exceptional public schools where students can learn as their genuine selves, feeling safe and welcomed regardless of their differences,” Schuette said on behalf of the School Board Integrity Project. “We believe in granting access to age-appropriate books and learning materials that truthfully represent our history, molding our students into discerning and active adults.”


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.