The forum was moderated by newly-elected NAACP Minneapolis Chapter President Booker T. Hodges and NAACP staffer, Al Flowers. The candidates running to serve on the school board are Carla Bates, Kim Ellison, Eli Kaplan and Doug Mann.
Mann, a former member of the NAACP, was previously active on the Education Advocacy Committee for a year and a half. Mann is endorsed by the Green Party, the Democratic Socialists of America and the New Progressive Alliance.
"I ran several times for the school board to address chronic problems with it," said Mann.
Bates is an incumbent, elected in 2008 to the school board. She has three children, one who graduated from South High School and two currently enrolled. "I ran for the school board after 10 years of being a parent-advocate and being frustrated with the system," said Bates.
Bates pointed out that the school district's operating budget is as large the city's operating budget, about $725 million, with over 3,000 employees.
"Running that school district and making sure it is working for the students of Minneapolis is very crucial," said Bates. "It is about the future of our city."
Ellison, also an incumbent, was appointed in January filling a vacant seat. She is the daughter of two educators and sister of two teachers in the Detroit Public Schools. Ellison is a parent of four, all of whom have attended Minneapolis Public Schools – the youngest a sophomore at South High. Ellison is a former educator, teaching in alternative education schools for 12 years in the areas of social studies, math, reading and photography. She has also been involved with multiple boards, including the Parents United for Public Schools, which worked to provide adequate funding for public schools. She has also sat on the advisory board for Learning Works at Blake School and the Education Committee of the NAACP.
Moderator Hodges questioned the candidates as to how they plan to improve student test scores. According to Hodges, less than 25 percent of students, regardless of which school they attended, cannot pass basic curriculum tests.
"What specific policy will you propose to address the failing test scores in the Minneapolis Public School system?" asked Hodges.
Kaplan suggested greater community involvement.
"I myself would like to see more community people get outside their home and come into the schools, and help children with reading," said Kaplan, whose name is not on the ballot due to deciding to run after the filing date.
Mann however, believes staff and curriculum are to blame for failing test scores.
"We have a chronic problem in the Minneapolis Public Schools with a high concentration of inexperienced teachers in schools with high minority enrollment," said Mann.
Bates said she is concerned that the district is not adequately educating students in core subjects such as math. She said a number of students are failing key math courses such as algebra and geometry. Bates stated that a lot of the curriculum is uninteresting to the students, therefore they do not learn.
"If an instructor is constantly talking at you, and you missed it in the first five minutes, (a student's mind) will not be there after 30 minutes," said Bates.
She also recommends the implementation of technology to decrease the digital divide and advocates for a decrease in out of school punishment. "I don't think any child before the 5th grade should be suspended," said Bates.
Ellison offered a simple suggestion of building relationships to encourage students to learn.
"We knew if we kept students (engaged) long enough, they would not just pass the test, they would learn and retain information," she said. "(A former principal told me), the students are being told they cannot learn, they have incomplete credits and they will not graduate. (As that principal said), these students can learn. They need (teachers) to get them into the schools and to teach them."
A North High School student, attending South High next year, asked the candidates how they plan to address the issue of student to teacher ratio and better engage students.
"The teacher will stop whatever (she or he) is doing to focus on the bad students instead of teaching us," said the student. "What more can you do to get kids off the streets, help out the class and become engaged with learning?"
Mann suggested longer school days, shorter summers and smaller class sizes, but admitted that is not feasible.
"That will require a lot of money the district does not have right now," he said. Instead, he suggested the district shrink the pool of inexperienced teachers.
Mann said the district is not preparing its students for life beyond high school.
"Tremendous numbers of kids are getting pushed out. The ones going into community college are washing out of programs the first quarter," said Mann.
The moderator, Hodges expressed why the school board race is so important.
"Everywhere around the country, they take the literacy rate of an area and determine where the prison will be. The average inmate in the Minnesota Correctional Facility has a third grade reading level and the kids in 11th grade are leaving with that," said Hodges.
Voters go to the polls Nov. 6. Early registration for the general election ends Tuesday, Oct. 16. Voters can also register at the polls on the day of the election. To find designated polling sites or to register to vote, visit http://www.minneapolismn.gov/elections/index.htm.