Minnesota school boards not as diverse as student population

Published 10:37 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2017

ST. PAUL — Students of color and mixed race make up nearly one-third of Minnesota’s public school enrollment, but only 3 percent of school district board members are minorities.

An analysis of information from the state’s superintendents found that 71 of 2,148 school district board members are people of color. Supporters for increasing board diversity say it’s important because boards set school policies and budgets.

Most of the 39 with racial diversity only have one member of color. Five districts on or near Native American reservations have 27 of the diverse board members. The Twin Cities have eight.

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Abdi Sabrie is a Somali-American who moved to Mankato in 2009. He ran for a position on the school board multiple times before being elected in 2015.

Sabrie said it’s important for the district’s leadership to reflect the district’s diversity. He said the district has improved English language learner programs and staff diversity since he joined the board.

Minnesota School Boards Association Director Kirk Schneidawind said the group offers equity training for board members and is looking for ways to encourage more people of color to run for a school board position.

“I think that with changing demographics, I mean I think you’re going to see more individuals of color becoming more involved in their local government,” Schneidawind said.

The Hmong community makes up about 35 percent of the population in Walnut Grove, but there aren’t any Hmong school board members. One parent, Terry Yang, said young people often leave the small city before they can run for office and many older community members don’t have the knowledge or capability to serve on the board.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove school Superintendent Loy Woelber said he has struggled to recruit Hmong board member candidates, but said board members work to connect with the community in other ways to ensure their voices are heard.