Departing Eden Prairie School Board director Veronica Stoltz’s seat will be filled by someone in 2021, but no one is sure if it will be done quickly by appointment or via a special election in November.
The school board will discuss its next move on May 24 at its regular meeting.
Stoltz, elected to a four-year term on the board in 2019, will participate in her final meeting that night after submitting her resignation last month. Stoltz announced that her family will leave Eden Prairie and Minnesota for new jobs in Arizona later this summer.
Appointment vs. special election
School board members have options available when it comes to filling the seat. They can wait until the mandatory November 2021 special election and let voters decide, they could appoint someone to fill the seat until the election, or simply leave the seat open until the election.
Some observers are advocating for the candidate with the fourth most votes in the November 2020 election to be appointed to the position until a special election is conducted this November.
Community members posting recently on Eden Prairie Moms, a Facebook user group, claim that the board set a precedent in filling past board openings with non-winning election candidates.
Specifically, advocates support the appointment of Francesca Pagan-Umar, a mother of three students in the district who holds master’s degrees in general and special education, according to an EPLN report of an October 2020 candidate forum.
Pagan-Umar placed fourth in the November 2020 school board election receiving 13.6% of the vote. Elected in November were current Vice Chair Beth Fletcher (25.5% of votes), and directors Kim Ross (22.7%) and C.J. Strehl (17%).
An EPLN request for comments from Stoltz and Pagan-Umar were not immediately returned.
Seidel, board undecided on possible appointment
In an email response to an EPLN inquiry, board Chairperson Adam Seidel said he is open to the possibility of making an interim appointment, but has not decided what his position will be.
“Potentially yes,” he said, regarding the possible appointment of Pagan-Umar to the open seat. “As we work organizing an inclusive election, we’ll continue to examine the several recent board precedents and prioritize the fairest process for our community … Personally, I haven’t made a final determination of my opinion on the best course of action this year and look forward to further discussion at the board table.”
State law permits school boards to appoint replacements during the interim period between a seat opening up and a special election.
“The board hasn’t determined what to do at this time on that matter, but has begun discussing it,” he said. “State law dealing with board vacancies makes few specific directives to school boards and offers boards wide latitude in choosing how to proceed, with the exception of special elections, about which the law is very specific.”
Minnesota Statute 123B.09, Subdivision 5b states: “Any vacancy on the board … must be filled by board appointment at a regular or special meeting.” Such a board resolution would be effective 30 days following its adoption. “If the appointment becomes effective, it shall continue until an election is held…” the law states.
Seidel outlined three board vacancies in recent years dealt with in different ways by the board:
- Lauren Crandall, who had run unsuccessfully in the November 2017 election, was appointed to fill a seat vacated by a resigning board member in January 2018. A special election was held 10 months later, in November 2018, to pick a permanent replacement.
- Former board member Karla Bratud was appointed to fill a spot opened by a board member moving out of the district in September 2018. The vacancy was to be filled 16 months later in January 2020 through the results of the 2019 general election. The previous election was 10 months earlier in November 2017.
- No board appointment was made in September 2019 when a vacancy was created by a board member moving out of the district. The vacancy was to be filled four months later in January 2020 through the results of the 2019 general election. The previous election was 10 months earlier in November 2018.
Seidel said he was unaware of social media discussions of the issue. “Nobody has reached out to me to ask me about my motivation on the issue or asked to discuss my thoughts,” he said.
“My immediate priority is ensuring the district runs a fair and inclusive election process so the community can make the election decision given to them under state law this November,” Seidel said.
A petition on change.org posted on Eden Prairie Moms by Eden Prairie resident and parent Diana Ortiz argues that the board should follow the January 2018 process and appoint the next highest vote getter in November 2020: Pagan.
Ortiz responded via email to an EPLN request for comment to explain her motives for the petition.
“I wanted to make sure we can have someone fill the temporary position until the special election, and that we can have someone already vetted and voted for by the people of Eden Prairie,” Ortiz said. “Francesca is an outstanding candidate who already received 9,000+ votes and was the next person with the highest (number) of votes after all seats were filled.”
Ortiz, a 4th grade Spanish immersion teacher in Minnetonka who has lived in Eden Prairie since 2015, said her relationship with Pagan began when she voted for her in November.
“I am just getting to know her,” she said. “I’m a resident of Eden Prairie, who voted for her in the last election and have always been impressed with her preparation in Special Education. I think she could do awesome work for our community, in its diversity and the needs of our students. I’m hoping she can advocate for our students with special needs.”
Ortiz said she has two sons in Eden Prairie schools who are gifted and have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – or, in her words, “twice exceptional.”
“I have had to advocate so much for them to have their needs as learners met,” Ortiz said. “Since they are also gifted, they’re not cared for the same way because their test results are high even when their focus in the classroom is so low. They can compensate. Francesca understands all of this well and I know she would work to build a more equitable school system for students of color and students with special needs.”
Ortiz said that Seidel and the board have been contacted about concerns of those who have signed the petition. The petition also has been sent to the board, she said.
“They’re not responding in a transparent way,” she said. “Their response has been that basically they will do what they want.”
Ortiz said the board should represent what community members want.
“As elected public servants, their job is to represent what the community asks and needs of them,” she said. “I don’t understand why they would want to impose their will on the people of Eden Prairie. If this is the way they will react to their responsibility, then as a community we need to vote them out come next election cycle. We can’t depend on leaders who will not take care of our schools and communities in a transparent and collaborative way.”
Ortiz said that the board should anticipate “a lot of people” at the May 24 meeting.
As of May 19, the petition had 544 signers.
Special election in November
Stoltz’ resignation will result in a vacancy on the board beginning May 25. State law requires the vacancy be filled through a special election in November 2021 with the winner filling the seat immediately.
Candidate filing for the seat will begin in late July and proceed through early August with voting beginning in October, Seidel said. Because this is a special election the board wants to be sure that it is well publicized so that any candidates interested can file, he said.
“Folks are usually not thinking about running for office or voting in odd-numbered years, and we want to go the extra mile to make sure people hear the news and have time to consider offering their voice in service to the community,” Seidel said.
Candidate information sessions are typically conducted around the time of candidate filing, Seidel added. Due to the urgency of this unexpected election, a board committee has already begun that planning.
“We are also looking at modifications to the usual process to ensure that inclusive opportunity for candidates,” he said.
Seidel said that an unusually high number of school board vacancies have occurred across Minnesota this year. “It will be perhaps interesting to see how the roughly four dozen different districts choose to individually resolve their situations,” he said.
The May 24 board meeting begins at 6 pm. in the Administrative Services Center, 8100 School Road. Guidelines for presenting public comments at school board meetings can be viewed here.