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Two newcomers win at-large Minneapolis school board seats; Twin Cities referendums pass

Kimberly Caprini and Josh Pauly win the two at-large school board seats in Minneapolis.

Kimberly Caprini ended up with 34 percent of the vote for the at-large race.
Kimberly Caprini ended up with 34 percent of the vote for the at-large race.
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs

Coming out of the primary election with a solid lead over her three competitors for an at-large seat on the Minneapolis Public Schools board, Kimberly Caprini, 54, still spent election eve pacing among her supporters at La Mesa in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood.

Her husband, Nicola, along with her two daughters — Sofia, 19, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, and Kaya, 14, a freshman at Patrick Henry High School — tracked the results as they came in, cautiously optimistic about the early numbers.

If elected, the girls said, their mother would be able to shake Kaya’s hand as she walked across the graduation stage in a few years to accept her high school diploma — a little bonus for having shared so much of their mother’s time and energy over the years advocating for students.

“I see how invested she is and that’s inspired me,” Sofia said of her mother, a self-professed board room junkie.

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Nearly an hour after the polls closed, it became clear that Caprini had secured one of the two open at-large seats. So she posed for a victory photo with her family and ad-libbed a thank you speech, offering reassurance that she’s fit for the job.

“A week ago, someone asked me if I had graduated from college, as if that was supposed to be the experience I needed in order to do this work,” she said, noting she spent time a few nights ago totaling up all of the hours she’d spent preparing for this role. “I figured out I had literally — on the ground, in the community, in the schools and at the district level — volunteered over 18,000 to 25,000 hours of work: studying, learning.”

Caprini ended up with 34 percent of the vote for the at-large race. Back in 2016, when she first ran for a District 2 seat on the board, she lost by just 201 votes to Kerry Jo Felder, who showed up to support her last night.

“It was a tough race. We managed to keep love the whole time,” Felder said, reflecting on their face-off two years ago. “I think it helps to have another view that grew up on the north side. If the board can’t hear me, maybe they can hear her.”

Josh Pauly, 31, won the second open at-large board seat with 29 percent of the vote. He didn’t hold a public event last night, but the former Minneapolis Public Schools teacher tweeted his thanks Tuesday evening, noting he’s “excited to dive into this work.”

Incumbent Rebecca Gagnon had a small lead over Pauly during the primary. But the DFL and teachers union endorsements, which went to both Pauly and Caprini, likely helped him pull ahead in the general election.

Pauly and Caprini both had the upper hand when it came to campaign finance support as well. According to pre-general campaign finance reports, Pauly reported bringing in $18,630 and Caprini reported bringing in $10,414, compared to Gagnon’s $4,322 and Sharon El-Amin’s $4,800.

Josh Pauly won the second open at-large board seat with 29 percent of the vote.
MinnPost file photo by Erin Hinrichs
Josh Pauly won the second open at-large board seat with 29 percent of the vote.
Gagnon ended up with just 19 percent of the vote, bringing her three-term run to an end. And El-Amin, a north side parent and former small-business owner, came in last with 18 percent of the vote.

In her victory speech Tuesday evening, Caprini thanked Gagnon for her work on the board. She also had a message for El-Amin: “You’ve worked hard and your community loves you. I see you, at some point, in this position to make a bigger impact in the community as well.”

In addition to the two new at-large members, three uncontested incumbents were re-elected: Jenny Arneson, Siad Ali and Nelson Inz.

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Successful referendums

All three referendum questions on the Twin Cities ballots passed by a wide margin. The additional financial support comes at a critical time for the districts as they both look to work their way out of multimillion-dollar budgetary deficits.  

In Minneapolis, the board’s ask for an $18 million increase to the existing operating levy — which is used to pay for everything from staff salaries and benefits to classroom supplies and special student support services — passed with 78 percent of the vote.

The board’s second ask — to establish a $12 million tech levy to support technology upgrades and maintenance expenses that the district currently covers with dollars from its general fund — passed with 72 percent of the vote.

In a press release, Superintendent Ed Graff thanked voters: “We appreciate the investment you have made, and we are committed to equitably using these resources to improve student achievement and strengthen our school communities.”

The St. Paul Public Schools board’s ask to raise the current operating levy from $704.52 per pupil to $1,179.52 per pupil — resulting in approximately $18.6 million in additional school funding each year starting next year and continuing for 10 years — passed with 66 percent of the vote.

This boost puts the state’s second largest district more in line with the amount other large, and neighboring, districts currently receive in voter-approved funding.

“We are very grateful to St. Paul residents for approving our funding request,” Superintendent Joe Gothard said in a press release. “This vote shows that our community supports public education and knows we are stronger when we put students and schools first. “