The Eden Prairie School Board appointed former board member Karla Bratrud to fill the position vacated by the resignation of Veronica Stoltz. Bratrud will join the board at its July 26 regular meeting.
The board set the 7:30 a.m. Friday special meeting at its June 14 workshop meeting.
“The meeting details, and Zoom link, were published to the School Board’s webpage on Tuesday morning (June 15),” Brett Johnson, senior director of communications and community relations told EPLN. “There were about 10 people in the audience this morning, so the public was aware of it.”
The board approved a motion by Board Chair Adam Seidel to appoint Bratrud to the position by a vote of 4-2. Directors Kim Ross and C.J. Strehl voted no.
Bratrud will remain in the position until a candidate is declared the winner of a special election in November.
Seidel and other board members cited Bratrud’s experience as their reason for supporting her.
“I think that this board would benefit from, and I would definitely be helped, by additional experience in our current governance model and under our current policies…and I feel that Karla can provide that,” Seidel said. “I was very hopeful to find a fairly recent board member to step up and serve.”
In comments for a May 19 EPLN story, Seidel said he was open to the possibility of making an interim appointment, but that state law gave school boards “wide latitude” in choosing how to proceed.
Since then, the district’s attorney weighed-in on the issue, Seidel said. Based on existing law combined with a 1965 opinion by then-Minnesota Attorney General Walter Mondale, Seidel says that school boards are indeed “pushed” to fill vacant seats before a special election.
Board members had divergent views on the merits of picking an experienced former board member to fill the seat versus appointing the 2020 election candidate with the fourth most votes.
Ross said that the board was sending a message to the community by not following past precedence of appointing the next highest vote getter in the previous election.
Seidel countered that in three previous vacancy appointments in recent years, three different methods were used to address the situations, including selecting a previous board member, an unsuccessful candidate and making no selection at all.
Francesca Pagan-Umar received the fourth largest number of votes in the 2020 school board election. The top three vote-getters were elected to the board. A motion by Ross to appoint Pagan-Umar at the May 24 board meeting failed in a 5-2 vote, with outgoing member Stoltz and Ross voting in the minority.
Former board members contacted
In a phone interview with EPLN, Carol Bomben, who was among the former school board members contacted, called the board’s methodology “sloppy.”
Bomben said she was contacted by Ross after the June 14 workshop meeting in which Ross learned that Seidel had contacted at least one former board about their potential interest in the position.
Bomben said she was interested but needed more time to check her own schedule to make sure it would work.
“I actually thought I had a little more time,” she said. “This whole thing has been going on since April.”
Even though she may have been interested, Bomben said that choosing Pagan-Umar would have been a good way to go.
“That would have taken into consideration what the community wants,” she said. “Nine thousand voters voted for the fourth-place finisher. Her vote total actually exceeds some of the board members that are seated on the board now.”
Bomben served four terms on the Eden Prairie School Board, served on the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Intermediate District 287 board, and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, among others.
“I’ve been around the block,” she said.
But for Bomben, the bottom line is how the selection was made.
“The part that bothers me is that I really think they were very sloppy in how they approached this,” she said. “It wasn’t transparent.”
Sending a message
Ross said that when she asked Bratrud about her perspective on the (racial) equity work being done in the district, her response was that the district was doing enough.
“That concerns me when 47.2 percent, I believe, of students in our district are non-white, to bring somebody onto this board who thinks we are already doing enough in the area of equity, is troubling to me,” Ross said.
Bratrud disputed Ross’ characterization of her response when contacted by EPLN.
“I said that when I was on the school board, we made it clear in our policies that each child in the district was a priority,” Bratrud said. “When we asked the district for results showing us whether student achievement was improving, we always asked to see the data broken out into numerous subgroups to identify if any subgroup might not be making the progress we expected. And if that was the case, we held the superintendent accountable. So, I said I think the board has always made it clear it expects gains for all students.”
Seidel repeated his concern that appointing someone who might run in the special election would send the wrong message and give them an unfair advantage.
Ross responded by suggesting that a similar message would be sent by not appointing the next highest vote getter.
Other board members said they wanted this issue to be behind them. Director Aaron Casper said he favored Bratrud “just from an expedience perspective” because only seven meetings remain before the November election.
Strehl said he thinks that the community understands that the board is not trying to influence the November election, but said he would have preferred a process that would have allowed anyone interested to apply for the vacant seat.
Bratrud, 57, of Eden Prairie, served on the school board most recently when she was appointed in 2019 to fill another vacancy lasting 11 months. Before that, she was elected and served on the board from 2012-16. She chose not to run for re-election.
Reached a few hours after the board’s vote, Bratrud said that her goal is “… just helping to fill a short-term need.”
Bratrud said she does not intend to run for election in November.
She said she has worked previously with Superintendent Josh Swanson and other district staff and would be able to be up to speed quickly.
Bratrud has worked in the insurance industry and is currently an office administrator.
Candidate filing for the November 2 special election begins Tuesday, July 27. The winner of that election will complete the remainder of Stoltz’s term, which ends in January 2023.