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Amid a lot of resignations and retirements, people are still vying to sit on school boards

It's become a contentious and thankless job in recent months, so why?

STILLWATER, Minn. — We've talked a lot about what's on the ballot for folks in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But for 46 other communities around our state, school board races are also something to watch.

And we know, because we've seen, how ugly these school board meetings can get. So that got us wondering, why would anyone want to run for a seat right now?

Remember when school board meetings used to be pretty boring?

Well, as evidenced, especially in the past year and a half, those days are long gone.

Matthew Onken, a former Stillwater Area Public Schools board member, resigned last month -- citing division, and misinformation in his community.

"Through the means of social media, and other avenues to get information out, there seems to be a lot of misinformation about things like the vaccine, masking, critical race theory has been the big one that's come up as well," Onken said. 

Onken actually ran on the platform of making school board meetings boring again. But to him it quickly became evident, that wasn't going to be the case. 

"I would say probably end of June beginning of July, we started to see more and more community members that were maybe in opposition to things that we were trying to get done," Onken said.

It got to a point where Onken just had to call it quits.

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It also got to a point where the National School Boards Association penned a letter to President Joe Biden, asking for federal resources to bolster safety at these meetings, and to investigate threats made against school board members.

Onken is one of almost 70 school board members in Minnesota who have resigned or retired since August of 2020, according to the Minnesota Reformer. 

But for some reason, the desire to be on a school board hasn't cooled off. With the election upcoming Tuesday, the school board candidate field is actually crowded.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State candidate filings, more than 240 candidates are running to be a school board member in the state. 

In terms of why people still desire to be on a school board?

"It depends on what their position is," Onken said. "Do they have an agenda? Are they trying to get on the school board because they have something specific they are fighting for? Or are they getting on the board because they feel like I did and maybe we can affect some change?"

Onken said social media may be to partially blame for the vitriol we keep seeing all over the nation.

"I don't know if people know what to believe anymore," he said. "It's been really difficult to piece out what is true what is not. I think social media plays a huge factor in that. I think media plays a huge factor in that; we have been divided. A lot of times I'm not sure people even know why, or for what reason. Everyone has an opinion on something, the difference before social media was that you might share that opinion with a few people, but now everyone has access to share it with the entire world."

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