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Rochester Education Association endorses school board incumbents

The Rochester Education Association represents more than 1,300 teachers.

Jean Marvin, Cathy Nathan, Julie Workman and Justin Cook
Jean Marvin, Cathy Nathan, Julie Workman and Justin Cooke.
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ROCHESTER — In a deeply divided race for the future of the Rochester School Board, the district's teachers union has endorsed a slate of candidates that are all associated with one side of the spectrum.

The Rochester Education Association endorsed three incumbents including Jean Marvin, Julie Workman and Cathy Nathan. It also endorsed Justin Cook, who has been endorsed by outgoing school board member Melissa Amundsen.

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REA President Dan Kuhlman said candidates who received the endorsements were those who were most in line with the union's values.

"These candidates fell more in line with what we're looking at, and what we're looking at strategically in the future," Kuhlman said.

Kuhlman said some of the factors the union considered were the candidates' commitment to public education, their knowledge of Rochester Public Schools, their support of equity-based initiatives and having "realistic ideas of addressing discipline."

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The Rochester Education Association represents more than 1,300 teachers. According to Kuhlman, the REA membership represents approximately 90% of the school district's teaching staff.

This year, the district's education support professionals (formerly known as paraprofessionals) also took part in the candidate screening process.

Although the REA itself endorsed four candidates, it's hard to tell how much that reflects the views of the broader teaching community. Endorsements were determined from a subgroup within the organization rather than from a vote of all the members.

Although school board races are technically nonpartisan, this year's crop of candidates has essentially been divided into two camps. One camp includes the incumbents and Cook. The other includes four candidates who have banded together as a conservative bloc.

Through both their work on the school board and their answers at various forums, the incumbents have largely backed issues like equity initiatives and hiring a more diverse teaching staff to better reflect the demographics of the student population.

Conversely, the candidates with the conservative bloc have largely questioned the need for equity-based initiatives and the practice of hiring along racial lines.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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