Here’s my thinking around this year’s Edina school board elections. The short version is that I’m voting for Erica Allenburg, Dan Arom, Michael Birdman, and Karen Gabler, but read on for more details.
The Edina school board is composed of seven (non-partisan) members. Each member serves a four-year term. These terms overlap such that there are either three or four seats to fill every two years.
This year there are six candidates running for four seats:
- Erica Allenburg (incumbent)
- Dan Arom
- Michael Birdman
- Karen Gabler
- Owen Michaelson (incumbent)
- Nicole Schnell
For my research, I reviewed everyone’s campaign websites and watched the LWV 2021 Edina School Board Candidate Forum.
Now, I could do a detailed review of every candidate... but given that four of six are going to get seats, and there’s no ranked voting, I took a simpler tact: which two do I like the least?
Four of the candidates threw up no red flags for me: Erica Allenburg is an incumbent who seems to understand that being on the school board is hard work, and yet is going for it again. Dan Arom has no previous experience but has viewpoints that I agree with and if elected would be the only non-white member of the board. Michael Birdman seems level-headed and has volunteered in the community for years. Karen Gabler made the best appeal to me as a long-time educator and community volunteer.
That leaves two other candidates who stood out to me as generally opposed to my views: Nicole Schnell and Owen Michaelson.
Owen Michaelson clearly comes at education through a conservative lens. He doesn’t like the “ideological bent to Edina schools”. He specifically calls out critical race theory, blaming it for falling academic scores; in my opinion, CRT is a conservative bogeyman, so ill-understood that it can stand in for whatever grievance you feel like airing. He legitimately wants us all to just get over America’s racist history so that we can all get along better (which is such an easy position to take when you and your family were not the target of systemic oppression).
Michaelson also leans towards the less-safe side of dealing with the pandemic. First, he’s critical of teacher unions, blaming them for Edina doing remote learning last year (not, let’s say, an out-of-control pandemic). Second, he was the lone vote against mask mandates for school this year, which not only makes schools less safe but also the community at large.
Nicole Schnell is seemingly running for no other reason than her opposition to pandemic precautions. She admits that she is only running for office because of the past 18 months dealing with the pandemic. She is part of Edina 4 Parents Progress (which is all about reducing pandemic precautions). During the candidate forum she repeatedly (and often out-of-context) demanded that people “ask the questions”, which was pretty clearly code for “pay more attention to those of us not wanting to force masks.”
Schnell’s singular focus on recent issues is a big negative to me. I would much prefer a candidate that has more wide-ranging goals for being on the school board. Also, I don’t agree with optional masks in schools - if we want to keep kids in school (without constant outbreaks and quarantines) then you need to take some precautions.
Erica Allenburg, Dan Arom, Michael Birdman, and Karen Gabler have (in my view) reasonable positions on pandemic precautions and education in general. They are not all carbon copies of each other (not by a long shot) but since I have such a visceral opposition to Michaelson and Schnell there’s not really a reason to go into details between them. All four of them get my vote.