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The 2021 ISD 197 election is on Tuesday, November 2 with absentee voting starting on Friday, September 17. There are three school board seats on the ballot and a levy renewal. Here’s your voter’s guide for ISD 197.
Where & How to Vote
If you are not registered to vote, you can register now. You can also register at your polling place on election day (you will need to provide proof of residence). If you’re not sure if you’re registered, you can check your voter status.
In-person voting will happen on Tuesday, November 2 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at your assigned polling location. Because this is a special election, combined polling places are used—which are often not your regular polling location. Please double check where you should vote using the state’s Polling Place Finder.
Absentee voting, which allows for early in-person or mail-in voting, begins on Friday, September 17 and runs through 5 p.m. on Monday, November 1. You can request an absentee ballot from the district and one will be mailed to you. You can also vote in-person at the district office or Northern Dakota County Government Center. The district lists the available days and times for in-person voting.
What’s on the Ballot?
Three of the seven ISD 197 school board seats are on the ballot, as well as an operating levy renewal. Take a look at your sample ballot so you know what to expect.
Note that you can vote for up to three school board candidates.
Printable Voter’s Guide
For a quick glance at the candidates and issues, check out our printable voter’s guide:
Feel free to download, print, and share this voter’s guide. More on how we created it.
ISD 197 has an operating levy up for renewal. Voting yes will not increase taxes, but will continue an existing levy. The levy will raise $1.2 million per year and amounts to $52 per year for an average home (valued at $301,500).
We covered the levy renewal in more detail.
Who’s Running for School Board?
There are 10 candidates running for the three open seats:
- Timothy J. Aune, Mendota Heights
- Stephanie A. Auran, West St. Paul
- John Chandler, Mendota Heights (incumbent; first elected in 2013; campaign site)
- Mark Grondahl, Mendota Heights (campaign site)
- Marcus Hill, West St. Paul (incumbent; appointed in 2021; campaign site)
- Sarah Larsen, Mendota Heights (campaign site)
- Robert Reese, Sunfish Lake (campaign site)
- Morgan Steele, West St. Paul (campaign site)
- Jon Vaupel, Mendota Heights (campaign site)
- (will appear on ballot, but suspended her campaign in September; If you voted absentee for Villarreal and want to change your vote, you have until two weeks before the election—October 19. To cancel your ballot, contact the election office that sent your ballot.)
You can vote for up to three school board candidates.
We asked the candidates a series of questions and shared their responses:
We’ll continue to update this post as we share more responses.
Here’s more information on the candidates:
- Meet the Candidates: The parent organizations of Garlough, Moreland, and Heritage are hosting a ‘meet the candidates’ event on Saturday, September 25 at the Garlough Outdoor Learning Amphitheater. You can watch video of this event.
- School Board Candidate Forum: The League of Women Voters held a candidate forum on Thursday, October 7. You can watch the forum thanks to Town Square Television.
- Talk & Taco: The Optimist Club of West St. Paul will be holding a candidate forum at Dunham’s in West St. Paul on October 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
- Levy Renewal Informational Meetings: ISD 197 will host two community meetings to share information about the levy renewal on Wednesday October 6 and 13.
- Patch profiles: Mendota Heights Patch has posted candidate profiles: Tim Aune, Stephanie Auran, John Chandler, Mark Grondahl, Marcus Hill, Sarah Larsen, Robert Reese, Morgan Steele, and Jon Vaupel.
- My Villager: Highland Park’s My Villager does a quick overview of the candidates.
- SD 52 Republicans: This local GOP group has asked questions of candidates and shared responses. So far Stephanie Auran, Mark Grondahl, Robert Reese, and Morgan Steele have responded.
- DFL SD 52: This local DFL group has offered “letters of support” for John Chandler, Morgan Steele, and Elena Villarreal.
We’ll update this with additional forums and candidate Q&As as they become available.
Thanks for Participating in Our Democracy
No matter who you’re supporting, be sure to get out there and vote.
If you think our civics could be a little more civil, you’re not alone. Learn more about a book, Better Politics, Please, inspired by politics in West St. Paul and written by two West St. Paul residents.
This kind of local election coverage only happens thanks to our generous supporters. Consider joining them with monthly or annual support through Patreon and help keep your community informed.
Foundation gives $25,000 to district libraries
The ISD197 Educational Foundation Board is excited to announce that the Foundation is making a sizable donation to all of the libraries in the district. The money will be available for each of the school libraries (elementary, middle high school and early learning) to purchase books.
The I.S.D. 197 Education Foundation supports educational opportunities that help our learners build successful lives. We do so by seeking additional resources that will enable our teachers to consider new avenues to improve and enhance learning throughout the district. We allow more imaginative and creative ways for students to learn by generating financial support for programs, equipment, and projects that promote and enhance excellence in our schools.
Who We Are
We are parents, teachers and community members united to invest in educational opportunities that promise the brightest possible future for Independent School District 197 students.
What We Fund
Gifts to the I.S.D. No. 197 Education Foundation serve the interests of more than 4,600 students who attend its public schools. Our goal is to raise funds for programs and activities not funded through customary public funding.
MENDOTA HEIGHTS, MN — This fall, Mendota Heights residents will vote on school board members for ISD 197.
Sarah Larsen is one of 10 candidates running for School Board in the Nov. 2 election.
Patch asked candidates to answer questions about their campaigns and will be publishing candidate profiles over the coming weeks.
Are you running for School Board? Contact Morgan Reddekopp at [email protected] for information on being featured in a candidate profile and submitting campaign announcements to Patch.
Age (as of Election Day): 45
Position Sought: ISD 197 School Board Member At Large
Party Affiliation: None
I've been married to my husband Mike for almost 17 years, and we have two children. Tommy will be 15 soon, and is a student at Two Rivers. Lily is 11 and a student at Friendly Hills Middle School.
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?:
Yes, I am an 18 year employee of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
I have a degree in Chemistry from the College of St. Benedict, and a Masters of Science in Public Health: Environmental Chemistry from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
For over 18 years, I have worked in the Remediation Division of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency where I work on the regulation and cleanup of contaminated properties and landfills to protect public health and the environment. I currently serve as the Technical Services supervisor, overseeing engineering and technical support. For the past 8 months, I served on a small team deployed by the Governor's office to set up and operationalize large COVID testing and vaccination sites across Minnesota.
Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office: None
Campaign website: www.sarahlarsenfor197.com
Why are you seeking elective office?:
After 10 years as a parent volunteer in the district, I'm prepared, qualified and excited to serve as a school board member in District 197. I know first-hand many of the challenges and opportunities our schools face, and I am committed to listening to, learning from and representing those with differing perspectives. I'm seeking this position because I'm passionate about our community, our kids and our schools.
The single most pressing issue facing our (board, district, etc.) is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it:
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). This is the first focus area in the district's Strategic Framework and I believe it is at the core of every action happening in our district after watching teachers, students and staff navigate a pandemic and distance learning over the last 18 months. Our school board needs to support the district in making space for personal development for staff and administration, as well as an advisory group for leadership and allow teachers/staff to focus on social/emotional supports for all of our students. The ability of our students to make responsible decisions, manage their emotions, establish healthy relationships and self-regulate are key to so many measures of success as they move through our schools and we are in a position as a district to provide resources, space and support for this work.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?:
My extensive experience as a parent and volunteer in the district sets me apart from the other candidates. My term as a school board member would be off to a running start! I've been a volunteer in our district schools for over 9 years. I've been a member of the Parent Ambassador Network (PAN) for over 5 years, which was started by the former superintendent where I've been able to learn about the functionalities of the district, met many staff in the district offices and worked with leaders from all of our district schools. I was a member of the three-day Strategic Planning Core team, having been one of the few members of the public who helped craft the district's current strategic plan and goals. I served as co-president of the Mendota Elementary PTA for two three-year terms, and I'm currently serving my second two-year term as co-president of the Friendly Hills Middle School PTA. I have run countless book fairs, tutored small math groups, read with kindergarten kids, volunteered in libraries, organized meals and treats for teachers and staff. I love our schools and community, and this is the next step for me in service to our school district and community.
My experience in government work also sets me apart. I have a great deal of experience reading statutes, rules, legislation, state guidance, setting budgets, attending hearings and other government work which gives me an advantage over candidates who aren't familiar with the workings of governmental entities. My recent experience as a part of the COVID response team and my masters degree in Public Health give me the tools and background to help the district best navigate the continuing pandemic and related planning and response.
If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency):
I believe the board can improve in the area of clear and transparent conversation and communication. Board members need to discuss their questions during board meetings, be open and communicative during meetings, and express any concerns prior to a vote or decision. I hear feedback from our community around lack of transparent and clear communication, and I'd like to work with the district and the community to make sure both sides are heard, and ensure the community knows where to get recent and accurate information.
How do you think local officials are performing in responding to the coronavirus? What if anything would you have done differently?:
Our district has followed MDH, MDE and CDC guidance throughout the pandemic regarding masking and other policies, and I fully support this approach. We expect our administrators, teachers and staff to be the experts on educating our children, and, in turn, I believe our administration is correct to rely on the scientists and policy makers with access to all of the current data to make the best recommendations regarding masks and vaccines. Distance learning was a huge effort for teachers, families and students and I commend all of us for getting through it. Our kids, teachers and school staff are best able to do their jobs if they are in the school buildings — together. I support the current mask mandate. I support any tools we can use to keep kids in school, learning and building their social/emotional abilities. I believe our district should also support and encourage the in-school testing options from MDH this year for all students, teachers and staff.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform:
Equity. This is the second focus area from the strategic framework, and encompasses so many aspects of active work happening in the district. I want our school board to focus on one question: Do our students experience our schools as an example of an equitable system? If not, we have work to do.
Budgetary. Our district has made great progress over the past decade to stabilize funding and the current school board has made it a priority to work within a budget and seek funding as needed. This should always be a focus area of the school board, as it is critical to the success of the district.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?:
My decade of experience in our district as a parent and volunteer working on various parent groups and district networks and teams gives me the background and building blocks to be successful in this position. My background in government budgeting, contracting, purchasing and policy over 18 years make me unique. I'm excited to bring my background and skills to our district board.
The best advice ever shared with me was:
A stranger is a friend you just haven't met yet: I place tremendous value on listening and seeking to understand. In my work for the State of MN, I'm often in the position to present unpopular news and difficult and complex information. I'm able to explain my position and opinions, and continue to work with others successfully even though we may not agree on the issues. As an elected official, I would be responsible for representing the views and interests of the broader community, not just those of my own children and family. I take this responsibility seriously, and look forward to engaging my community.
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?:
I want to continue to build our district community into a district of choice and a place of community pride. Our school board needs to be a group that listens, has thoughtful conversations and seeks to understand their community prior to making decisions. I'm excited to connect with our community during the campaign season and represent all students, teachers and staff. More than anything, I care - for our families, our schools and our community. I will work hard to ensure every child in District 197 has the opportunity to thrive!
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