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New faces to join incumbents on District 833 School Board

Voters in south Washington County favored an all-female slate representing different corners of District 833 during the Nov. 5 School Board election.

Incumbents Tracy Brunnette of Cottage Grove, Laurie Johnson of Woodbury and Newport’s Katy McElwee-Stevens were re-elected to the board and will be joined by newcomers Katie Schwartz, a St. Paul Park resident, and Woodbury’s Sharon Van Leer.

Johnson was elected to the open two-year seat, while Brunnette, McElwee-Stevens, Schwartz and Van Leer bested 10 others in the race to fill four four-year seats.

Johnson said the mix of new faces joining the returning board members represents a signal from the voting public.

“People got to take a look and see: Does everything seem like it’s going OK?” she said. “It’s validation of where the district is headed.”

That St. Paul Park now receives direct representation on the board through Schwartz only benefits more residents, Johnson noted.

“People have a fantastic opportunity that we’re serving the entire south Washington County community with a broad representation,” she said.

School Board Chairman Ron Kath said the election results mean the board will include Cottage Grove, Woodbury, St. Paul Park and Newport residents.

“This is the first time since I’ve been on the board we’re going to have representation from all four of our communities, and I think that’s really exciting for the whole district,” he said.

First-term incumbent and Woodbury resident David Kemper was ousted after finishing sixth in balloting. Kemper’s 2,267 votes kept him just behind Molly Lutz, whose 2,458 vote total left her in fifth position — and just five votes back of Van Leer, who captured the final four-year seat.

“Everybody was a winner,” Van Leer said. “There were no people who lost. It takes a village to raise children and there were a lot of talented individuals that put their hat in the race.”

The margin of victory between fourth and fifth places was close enough to trigger a publicly funded recount if either Lutz or Van Leer should seek one. They will have seven days to request a recount after the vote is canvassed Tuesday, Nov. 12, at a special School Board meeting, according to Superintendent Keith Jacobus.

Lutz said last week she still hadn’t made up her mind.

“I’ve left my options open,” she said.

Schwartz led all vote-getters with 3,239 votes, or 11.46 percent, while Brunnette gathered 2,990 votes, accounting for 10.58 percent of the vote.

Schwartz, who ran for the board unsuccessfully in 2011 and 2012, was still soaking in the victory a day later.

“I was shocked and excited that the hard work paid off,” she said, adding that an expanded campaign network may have helped garner more votes in Woodbury and Cottage Grove — “instead of me being on my own with my family trying to get my message out.”

McElwee-Stevens earned the third-highest vote total with 9.37 percent. She reveled in the win, noting that it was the first time voters had actually elected her; she has twice been appointed to serve on the board.

“It’s so humbling,” McElwee-Stevens said.

Brunnette, who is currently serving her 14th year on the board said she is “very excited” to continue.

“I love my work on the board,” Brunnette said. “I have great passion for public education.”

In the three-way race for the board’s two-year seat, incumbent School Board member Laurie Johnson of Woodbury cruised to a win over challenger and fellow Woodbury resident Susan Richardson.

Johnson collected 51 percent of the vote to Richardson’s 33 percent. The third candidate for the two-year seat, David Firkus, who did not actively campaign, drew a distant third with 15 percent of the of vote.

Due to an issue related to the timing of a former School Board member’s resignation, the board was anticipating a temporary reshuffling in the next few weeks that District 833 Communications Director Barb Brown said could play out like this:

McElwee-Stevens would serve in her currently appointed role until that seat is approved and cleared following the Nov. 12 School Board canvassing meeting. Next, Johnson would resign her four-year seat and be appointed to the new two-year term. The board could then appoint McElwee-Stevens to the four-year seat for a month before beginning the four-year elected term in January.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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