Students engage Mac community in school board elections


Photo courtesy of Sami Banat ’24

Emma Salomon, Staff Writer

St. Paul Public School Board elections took place on Tuesday, Nov. 2. On the ballot for St. Paul residents were the mayor, three positions on the St. Paul Public School Board, a special election for St. Paul Public School Board and Question 1 about rent stabilization. The school board elections mobilized many Macalester students to campaign for progressive candidates, including Uriah Ward and Clayton Howatt. 

Ward and Howatt were first-time runners for St. Paul Public School Board. Ward ran in the normal election against five other candidates for three positions. Howatt ran in the special election to fill the seat of a board member who stepped down. 

Macalester student Sami Banat `24, an active organizer for local and national campaigns, was the campaign manager for Ward. Howatt’s passion for educational policy reforms inspired Aaron Woida `22 to support Howatt and run his campaign. 

Both candidates were endorsed by the Democratic Farmer and Labor Party (DFL) and the Sunrise Movement, a youth-run climate advocacy organization. Woida said their endorsements are reflective of their candidates’ potential to enact progressive change in public schools. 

“Work of the school board intersects with a lot of issues that Macalester students are fighting for,” Woida said. “School boards are on the front lines in the fight for racial justice on the front lines in the battle for climate justice leaders in class struggle and organized labor.”

Out of the six candidates, Ward, along with Halla Henderson and Jim Vue, won the St. Paul Public School Board election. Ward came in third with 20% of the vote (22,466 votes) in second was Henderson with 22% (24,090 votes) and Vue came in first with 24% (26,767 votes). Howatt lost his race with 42% (17,948 votes) to the current chair of the board Jeannie Foster’s 57% (24,388 votes). Although Howatt was not elected, the election was still a win for Banat and Woida.

“We elected an incredible progressive slate on Tuesday,” Woida said. “The fact that Uriah Ward got elected, the mayor and rent stabilization passed is an incredible accomplishment.”

Managing a campaign was not an easy feat for Banat and Woida. Being a campaign manager, and in Woida’s case, Howatt’s only staffer, was incredibly time-consuming for the full-time college students. Schoolwork was deprioritized in some cases to get their candidates’ messages across. Both said that the support of the Macalester community fueled them as they found guidance and mentorship in professors and support from Macalester students. 

Being a college student campaign manager had its upsides, giving their candidates a much-needed younger perspective. Macalester’s politically engaged college campus was a big asset. Hufsa Ahmed ’24, a co-leader of Sunrise St. Paul and lead organizer of DFL-endorsed candidates on Macalester’s campus, spoke on the power of Macalester’s community.

“Because Macalester’s community has the value of being civically engaged, it is really easy to mobilize and work with Macalester students,” Ahmed said.

The events that organizers planned on Macalester’s campus were highly successful in getting their candidates’ message across and ultimately creating a strong voting bloc of Macalester students. Events such as the “dorm storm,” where students interacted one-on-one with candidates, gave students a chance to learn more about the campaigns. Macalester’s precinct had a much higher voting rate for DFL- and Sunrise-endorsed candidates compared to neighboring precincts.

Macalester’s high voting rate is a win for local elections that the general population typically overlooks. Local elections have a 30% voter turnout compared to roughly 50% in presidential elections. 

School board elections in particular are notoriously under-appreciated for the power they have in instigating change. 

“School boards are an opportunity to create really big change,” Banat said. “Schools are so important to us, but they are also the hubs of our community.”

As leaders in the community, school boards can put in place policies that affect the whole community as well as other districts. St. Paul Public Schools in particular is a very large and influential district for the whole state and the changes it makes influences all public schools as well as the community around them. 

Woida emphasized that it is Macalester students’ duty to be involved in these local elections and care about their community off-campus. 

“It’s about solidarity with our neighbors,” Woida said. “Macalester students are St. Paul residents. We all have a civic responsibility to pay attention and care about what happens in the city in which they live.”