In politics, there are typically two major items — “the stomach” and a “financial treasure chest” — that candidates need in order to have a chance at winning an election. Tough as these are for would-be candidates to muster, structural inequities prove even more difficult to overcome in securing an elected post.
A historical analysis of Mounds View School Board representation done after the November 2009 election reveals such an inequity: A New Brighton-based candidate is more likely to win an election than a Shoreview-based one, simply because there are more voters out casting ballots for New Brighton’s City Council on the day of the school board election.
Mounds View offers a high-quality public school option to approximately 70,000 people residing in portions of seven north metro suburbs (Arden Hills, Mounds View, New Brighton, North Oaks, Roseville, Shoreview, and Vadnais Heights). At 21,000 and 26,000 residents, respectively, New Brighton and Shoreview are the only suburbs with above 10,000 people who are almost entirely served by the staffs of District 621’s schools.
An analysis made possible by an online Abstract of Votes Cast, published by the Ramsey County Elections office, provided these election observables:
• Each odd-numbered year, New Brighton elects a portion of its citywide officers, and the Mounds View District elects a portion of its board members. Therefore, the biennial election for these two public bodies is perpetually “in sync.”
• Each even-numbered year, Shoreview elects a portion of its citywide officers, and Shoreview city elections never coincide with those of the school district.
• For two of the last three school board elections (2005 and 2009), the eligible voter turnout for the New Brighton voting precincts averaged 19 percent, while the combined turnout of Shoreview precincts averaged 4 percent. (The voting abstract published for 2007 did not permit the calculation of voter turnout percentages.)
To further illustrate how the winning of District 621 elections may indeed “be local,” the turnout facts can be coupled with these historical success statistics calculated from data provided by the district: Since 1995, 28 candidates were elected to the Mounds View board, with 13 of them from New Brighton and five from Shoreview. Also, New Brighton candidates achieved a 59 percent success rate (candidate wins / candidates fielded), while Shoreview candidates gained office 38 percent of the time.
As with any election, there are many non-quantifiables that could account for a given candidate’s success — among them are the campaign team and platform; the power of incumbency; time and number of places lived in the district; the level of school, educational advocacy, or community involvement; name recognition; and the degree to which the geographic sections of the electorate are educationally engaged.
Reluctant to dismiss possibility
But even key district players Jon Tynjala, who is the school board chairperson, and Colin Sokolowski, who serves as the district’s public relations director, are reluctant to dismiss the possibility of an imbalanced district playing field.
“I am a New Brighton resident, but cannot disagree that the turnout issue is a real (and disconcerting) one,” Tynjala wrote in an online forum. “If the city elections are hotly contested in New Brighton (as they were this year), that will tend to skew the results further depending on who is the most fired up.”
In his response, Sokolowski stated he didn’t “need to be convinced” regarding the possible inequity and was quick to provide assurance that the district was not involved in a “conspiracy” on the matter.
There is no such charge being implied. What’s more, there is nothing that proves New Brighton-based board members have acted in a pro-New Brighton manner in the board’s decision making, nor can they be said to be responsible for the election inequity in place since the 90s.
Yet even without these assertions, the Mounds View School Board would benefit from — and ought to provide — equal opportunity at “electability” for people across the district by examining its election cycle in respect to the city elections of the suburbs it represents.
John Hakes is a CPA who resides in Shoreview.