The Robbinsdale School Board will welcome a longtime district parent, a former director from the 1990s, a special education teacher and a board appointee to its ranks come January, according to unofficial vote totals reported to the Minnesota Secretary of State.
By 10:50 p.m. Nov. 8, Kim Holmes of New Hope, ReNae Bowman of Crystal, Caroline Long of Brooklyn Center, and Sharon Brooks Green of Crystal emerged as the apparent winners of four seats on the board.
Unofficial totals put Holmes as the top vote-getter with 15,374 votes or 15.9% of the vote, followed by Bowman with 14,730 votes or 15.2% of the vote, Long with 14,597 or 15.1% of the vote, and Brooks Green with 13,323 votes or 13.8% of the vote.
Other candidates included Sam Sant (12,764 votes), Aileen White (12,647 votes) and Jonas George Courneya (12,405 votes).
Holmes is a mother of four district students and a 22-year district resident. Holmes previously told the Sun Post she decided to run to change the “failing status quo” of the district with regard to safety, transportation, public trust and budget. If elected, she said she would make access to district information easier and address school safety.
Bowman is a Crystal resident who has previously served on the Robbinsdale School Board and as the mayor of Crystal. She is retired following a career in business and marketing. Bowman previously told the Sun Post that if elected, she said she would focus on rebuilding community trust in the school board. Other priorities included the budget, bus transportation, staff retention, student health, school safety, and student achievement.
Long is a 21-year special education teacher, member of the district’s InterSchool Council and lead negotiator for the 2021-2023 Minneapolis Public Schools teacher contract. She previously told the Sun Post that she decided to run after seeing inequities in her child’s education within the district. If elected, Long said she would focus on improving district communication to parents and the community, specifically in regards to funding.
Brooks Green is pursuing doctoral degree in public policy and administration at Walden University, and is a member of the Crystal-New Hope-Robbinsdale Rotary and League of Women Voters of Crystal-New Hope-Robbinsdale-Plymouth. She was appointed to the school board last year after the resignation of board member Pam Lindberg. Brooks Green previously told the Sun Post that she decided to run “for the benefit of our children.” She said if elected, she would advocate for “a two-way dialogue” between the district and community members and more opportunities to hear students’ opinions on district-wide issues. Stated issues included transportation, academic achievement, mental stability and finances.
‘A state of angst’
Holmes, Bowman and White ran on a similar platform in favor of shaking up representation on the school board.
Top vote-getter Holmes said she was “shocked, on many levels” as the precinct data rolled in to the Secretary of State website. For much of the evening, she maintained a healthy lead.
In a written response to the Sun Post, Holmes attributed the success of newcomers as an affirmation that voters want something new.
“For me, that translates to the community agreeing the status quo is no longer working within District 281,” Holmes wrote. “The message is clear. Stakeholders (frontline workers, families, students and community members) are questioning the decisions being made by current leadership in the 281 administrative offices and the RFT (Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers) that impact them on a daily basis.”
With vote totals in mind, Holmes planned to immediately ask the district to contract a third party to begin taking “unfiltered feedback” so the board could “make productive changes and do meaningful work.”
“Means of how that feedback is gathered and shared will also have to be done differently in order to reach more individuals and start regaining trust in district efforts,” Holmes said.
Bowman echoed her campaign peer.
“This was a reminder that the voices of people are so important in local politics. People will be engaged if elected officials are willing to listen,” Bowman said. “We could not have shown as the top two if we hadn’t actually listened to the stories of the community and the teachers and people who are just in a state of angst about how the district is managed.”
Long echoed that frustration seemed to be “a common thread” that motivated the vote this year. She decided to run as a parent frustrated with the treatment of her child at a District 281 school.
“I know the school board focuses on policy, but we also need to deal with how we are treating each other,” Long said. “We need to push the superintendent to say, ‘We’re hearing about disrespect at this school’ and talk to our administration. Parents need to feel like they’re being heard and the child needs to feel like they’re being seen.”
As a teacher with Minneapolis Public Schools, Long said she also wanted to bring teachers to the table.
“We are the implementors of whatever policy the school board chooses to go with. It shouldn’t be a ‘volun-told’ situation,” Long said.
Brooks Green said in her 12 months as an appointed board member, she had been part of school board listening hours that had been “rather one-sided.”
“I understand the frustration of constituents saying, ‘Hey, I don’t feel like I’m being heard,’ you know. People are not feeling respected because the Listening Hours are not a conversation,” Brooks Green said.
New experience on the dais
Bowman ran unsuccessfully in 2020. She said she’s had her sights on the 2022 election ever since.
“I promised those that wanted me to run that if I didn’t prevail, I would come back in 2022,” Bowman said.
Still, it’s not her first foray into public service, serving on this school board from 1997-2001 and as a mayor for two terms beginning in 2005. She said she would carry forward her experience in governance, leadership and budget building to the new role come January. In her time as mayor, she said she was lucky to receive mentorship from Crystal Councilmember Mark Hoffman on managing large budgets.
Long said she looked to share her seat with those who voted her in where possible.
“I told people while campaigning that I really like to be collaborative, and that’s true,” Long said. “These decisions shouldn’t solely be mine to make. I’m going to have an approach that includes everybody.”
Brooks Green said the longtime service and education experience of existing board members mixed with the fresh perspectives of Holmes, Bowman and Long could put the district in “a very positive-moving direction.”
“The dynamics of the board are changing, and our youth are watching us,” Brooks Green said. “We’ve got to set a standard for policies and governance in the way we want our students to model them, and continue to excel our district.”
Non-elected candidates reflect
Candidates for whom the election didn’t go their way also offered thoughts on the race.
White said while the results Tuesday night were not what she had hoped for, she looked forward to supporting her peers “who did get a seat at the table.” She said she would continue to bring her and others’ concerns to the district’s Listening Hour.
“I am optimistic with new individuals sitting at the RAS Board of Education table, HOWEVER, more than ever they will need community participation & input,” White wrote. She said while canvassing, she met many living in the district who did not have enrolled students and were not informed on the issues, yet would be key voters in future referendum questions,” White wrote. “NOT keeping all stakeholders in the know, will not help RAS.”
In a written statement to the Sun Post, Courneya said he planned to run again in two years. He was especially thankful for all those employed and connected to the school district that “shared their concerns and priorities” during his campaign.
Courneya wrote that he remained committed to change within the district: “We need to tackle equity issues like closing the achievement gap and hiring and retaining teachers of color; champion better mental health services; provide a reliable and consistent bussing system that supports our students in their education; and strengthen our financial position.”
Finally, he had words for the elected board members.
“All my best to the new board composition and the good work they will accomplish,” Courneya said.
Sant did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Departing from the board in January will be Michael Herring, Sant and David Boone.
The school board is a seven-member body of elected officials that guide the Robbinsdale School District. Robbinsdale Area Schools serves approximately 12,000 students in seven communities in the northwest Twin Cities area, including Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, Plymouth and Robbinsdale.