The Eden Prairie School Board has picked a former member to fill a vacancy, but not everyone agreed on the choice.
Board members came to a consensus during a June 14 workshop to pick a former member to fill the seat vacated by Veronica Stoltz, who resigned last month. They summoned a special meeting 7:30 a.m. June 18, but disagreement broke out over the selection.
The board eventually voted 4-2 to appoint former member Karla Bratrud, who the board had also appointed in 2019 to fill a vacancy. Bratrud did not run for election in November 2019.
Boardmember DD Dwivedy said he spoke with Bratrud as well as former member Greg Olson, who served 2003-2007. Dwivedy said Olson, a fellow Rotarian, had been willing to serve but had not been following discussions on the board. Bratrud, he noted, served more recently.
“She’s way more plugged into the schools and what’s happening recently,” Dwivedy said.
Chair Adam Seidel added that Bratrud’s knowledge of the board’s policy governance model, which separates board and administration responsibilities, would be useful.
“I was very hopeful to find a fairly recent board member to be able to step up and serve,” said Seidel, adding that Bratrud had been involved in writing the board’s current policies.
However, Boardmember Kim Ross noted that none of the other board members had mentioned former Boardmember Carol Bomben, who would not know whether she could fill the vacancy until June 23. Ross recommended the board hold off on an appointment until then.
Bomben spoke in support of Ross’s move last month to appoint Francesca Pagan-Umar, who came in fourth of six candidates for three board seats last November. That effort fell short 2-5.
Ross said she had been surprised when Seidel informed the rest of the board June 14 that he had contacted former board members about whether they would be willing to fill the position.
“The board had not yet said that that was the direction we wanted to take,” Ross said. “Moving this quickly is not giving that approach a chance to play out.”
She also charged that Seidel had not contacted several other former board members who are a part of his Rotary club.
Seidel later responded, “There are a variety of board members with experience under our current models who we talked to (who) were not available, and I think Karla’s qualified and I’m prepared to move forward with her.”
Ross asserted that Bratrud had said during a conversation with her that the district has been doing enough in its equity work.
Given that nearly half of the students in the district are nonwhite, Ross said, “To bring somebody onto this board who thinks we’re already doing enough in the area of equity is troubling to me.”
Dwivedy said he had believed the board had determined unanimously that it would make a decision June 18. If it held off on an appointment and Bomben could not serve, Dwivedy said, “Then we are just going in circles again.”
Boardmember C.J. Strehl, who joined Ross is voting against the appointment of Bratrud, told Ross that he wished she had joined him previously in his effort to slow down the appointment process to create what he called a “principled approach to it.”
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get that support – not just from you but from other folks on the board as well,” Strehl said. “The board decided to have it today, and I share your concerns.”
He added that he assumed Ross’s view on the process had evolved, to which she nodded. Ross had previously expressed concern that such a process could take so long that filling the vacancy would be a moot point.
“I wish we could have been a little closer on this,” Strehl said. “I think probably we could have maybe approached it with a process that allowed every person in Eden Prairie the opportunity to apply.”
However, Boardmember Beth Fletcher said she felt strongly about appointing someone with experience quickly, with a June 18 appointment allowing the appointee to participate in a board meeting Monday, July 26. State law requires a 30-day period before the appointment goes into effect.
Boardmember Aaron Casper indicated Ross and Strehl had valid points, but he said, “I would like to move on. I’d like to get this done this morning. I’d like us to focus on our work.”
Ross again alluded to the effort to appoint Pagan-Umar, noting that hundreds of community members had signed a petition favoring her appointment, with several residents again raising the issue at a community engagement session June 16.
“It troubles me and disappoints me that I do not think with this appointment the board is listening to the voice of our community,” Ross said.
Dwivedy responded that he believed the board had an agreement to appoint a former board member at the June 14 workshop. He said he understood community members said they wanted the board to appoint a person of color. However, he said he is the only person of color he is aware of to ever have served on the board.
Of the disputes developing on the board, Dwivedy said, “I just find it very troubling to see it in the Eden Prairie School District. ... It’s an inclusive community. We live in harmony. We disagree, but we respectfully disagree and we still look at each other, smile at each other and work with each other and help the community and one another.”
He added, “This cannot be a reason for the community to divide.”
Dwivedy said board members should instead come together to encourage a high turnout for the special election for the seat this fall. In response to a question from Strehl, Dwivedy said both Bratrud and Olson had said they had no intent “even to go near the filing office” to run for the special election. The filing period begins Tuesday, July 27.
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