Voters elect four to St. Paul school board, incumbent Ellis loses seat

Two incumbents were on the ballot for St. Paul school board Tuesday night, but unofficial election results indicate only one will return this January.

With 86 of 86 precincts reporting Tuesday night, newcomer Carlo Franco had 21% of the vote. Incumbent Chauntyll Allen followed with 19%, and newcomers Yusef Carrillo and Erica Valliant appeared to have clinched seats with roughly 17% support each.

The four Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsed candidates ended up getting the most votes of the seven candidates on the ballot. Four seats were up for election.

Zuki Ellis, who has served on the St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education since being elected in 2015, appears to have lost her seat. She had about 14% of the vote late Tuesday.

The two other candidates were in single digit levels of support, with Gita Rijal Zeitler at 8% and Abdi Omer at 4%.

Ellis was elected to the school board in 2015 and challenged incumbent Sen. Sandy Pappas, a St. Paul DFLer, in a 2022 primary. Ellis did not receive a DFL endorsement in the school board election.

School board members are elected to four-year overlapping terms and represent the entire city. Positions are non-partisan, though most of the candidates had the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or affiliated organizations.

Incumbents Jeanelle Foster and Jessica Kopp did not run for reelection. Members Halla Henderson, Jim Vue and Uriah Ward will face election again in 2025. Newly-elected members’ terms will start in January.

Enrollment, safety, funding

Tuesday’s election came as St. Paul Public Schools, Minnesota’s second-largest school district, faces challenges with declining enrollment and rising expenses.

The district has around 33,000 students, about 4,000 fewer than a decade ago, a decline that comes as costs continue to rise due to inflation. Members of the school board earlier this year approved a $1 billion budget, the district’s biggest in history.

Some parents blame declining enrollment on challenges posed by online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, new school schedules and growing competition from charter schools. To tackle declining enrollment, the district has approved school consolidations, which advocates say could address declining enrollment by creating more “well-rounded” schools.

Other issues in the race included school safety and declining high school graduation rates.

School funding was a big issue for voters who turned out at the Highland Park Community Center Tuesday afternoon, with one saying he believed schools were “chronically underfunded.”

“We need to throw money at the problem,” said Ben Hecker, 44. “Without a significant influx of funding from levels above the city we’ll just be talking about the problem instead of doing something.”

John Motis, 42, said schools should have more money for accessibility and safety.

“(We need) adequate funding for in-class and out-of-class resources, as well as special needs, so teachers can worry less about those things and more about the job of teaching,” he said.

Frederick Melo and Caleb Hensin contributed to this report.

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