Campaign commotion: School board candidate flyers prompt questions

Campaign literature endorsing candidates in the Brainerd School Board race has garnered questions and concerns throughout the community.

Washington Educational Services Building
Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd.
Dispatch file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

BRAINERD — In the weeks before an election, handouts, mailers and other campaign materials with candidate names and faces abound. But unless those materials come directly from a candidate, it’s likely the candidate does not know about them before they go out.

Under Minnesota statute, candidates cannot coordinate with political committees on campaign materials. This year, a few Brainerd lakes area candidates have a front row seat to the impact that rule can have on an election.

Two recent pieces of campaign materials, each endorsing five different candidates for the Brainerd School Board, drew questions and concerns from community members about the origins of the materials, their affiliation with those they endorse and whether they did more harm than good in a race where voters have 16 choices to fill the five open seats.

The first was a mailer that came from Support Our Teachers and included a disclaimer stating it was not paid for by any candidate, read “Dangerous political extremists are running to inject their beliefs into your kid’s education." It continued on to accuse those “extremists” of believing some students should be left behind and outsiders should have veto power over curriculum, along with bringing national culture wars into Brainerd classrooms.

Down below, the mailer advised voters to protect students by voting only for five candidates deemed “progressive education champions.”


Those listed — John Ward, Michelle Brekken, Charles Black Lance, Elisa Korentayer and Sarah Speer — did not have positive thoughts on the mailer and said they did not know anything about the Support Our Teachers group.

“I think it’s regrettable that if I haven’t met somebody that that would be my first introduction — that that would be the way that we meet because I don’t know how representative that is,” Speer said during a phone interview Friday, Oct. 28.

“I really struggle with somebody putting words in my mouth and not talking to me first about what my positions are,” Brekken said, echoing Speer’s thoughts.

Brekken said she also felt violated by someone taking a photo from her personal Facebook page to use in the mailing.While Black Lance said he is not surprised nor upset with someone using his name and photo because he is in the public domain as a current board member and a candidate, he said it’s unfortunate groups are throwing money at this type of misleading information.

“I would just rather focus on students and hear from all candidates, myself included, in terms of how we intend to support students and support our teachers and administrators,” Black Lance said.

In a post on her campaign Facebook page, Korentayer called the mailer “tone-deaf” and “fear-mongering.”

“The oversized postcard gives the impression that I am part of some “progressive” cabal intent on ramming some political agenda through the Brainerd School Board,” Korentayer wrote. “To be clear, I am not part of any progressive cabal, and I don’t intend to ram any political agenda through the Brainerd School Board.”

Ward — who was not sure if he had seen the mailer in question — said the language on it does not fit his campaign style. He said he operates by letting constituents know what he intends to do in office.


“When is civility going to return to the campaign and political process?” Ward said.

His sentiment was in line with other candidates who felt the mailer was a divisive political move out of step with the culture of the community, serving to build animosity, drive hate and take the focus off the students and the real goals candidates have.

Read more
Board members approved a budget revision for the 2022-23 school year with a much smaller projected deficit than anticipated last summer.
Using Christmas and Easter Break exclusively is not welcoming. Thank you Brainerd Public Schools for welcoming all regardless of their spiritual beliefs.
It’s not only common sense but the right thing to do.
Officials at Brainerd Public Schools and Reichert Bus Co. are working to combat the issue with hiring bonuses for new drivers and the consolidation of routes.
The district will spent $21,300 plus the cost of travel to consultants from PartnerED for strategic planning services.
The phrase "separation of church and state" does not exist in the Constitution.
The Brainerd School Board to change spring and winter breaks back to Easter and Christmas breaks, as it has been forever.
An event for parents and community members is set for 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the Forestview Middle School cafetorium.
Sherece Lamke was named a 2023 National Girls & Women in Sports Day - Minnesota award winner.
The student was reported to be in stable condition.
The next Teacher of the Year will be chosen in March.
Seema Pothini talked about hateful, biased and derogatory comments in Brainerd Public Schools at a free and public workshop Monday, Jan. 16, at Central Lakes College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The student died unexpectedly Monday, Jan. 16, according to district officials.
It is the American way to respect the rights of the minority, as well as the will of the majority.
I’m glad we are a diverse community, but please don't take our traditions away from us that we have had for years and years.
Brainerd Public Schools has partnered with Central Lakes College and Crow Wing County to offer a free workshop on Martin Luther King Jr. Day about how to combat hateful words.
Board members approved minor changes to the district's summer school policy.
On a 4-2 vote Monday, Jan. 9, board members agreed to hire PartnerED over the Minnesota School Boards Association.
The three earned the most votes in the four-year board race in November and will serve through December 2026.
New board member DJ Dondelinger questioned Monday, Jan. 9, why Brainerd Public Schools changed the name of Christmas break to "winter break."
The appointments will take place in January, after new board members take office.
The School Board is expected to choose a consultant after all the new board members are sworn in at the beginning of the year.
No one spoke during the public hearing on the property tax levy Monday, Dec. 12.
John Ward and Michelle Brekken took the oath of office, while Ruth Nelson, Tom Haglin and Charles Black Lance said goodbye during their last meeting.
Students from elementary schools in Brainerd, Baxter and Nisswa dropped off donations Tuesday, Dec. 6.
Each is an example of servant leadership, in three very different styles.
He could be seen waving out of the sunroof of their car, smiling from ear to ear as he passed by everyone who came out to support him.
Enjoy free access to klick! photo galleries on
One does not build by destroying; one would think more have learned this is the last year.
Conner Erickson's family is inviting the community to give the 17-year-old a warm welcome as he returns to Brainerd for the first time since Sept. 9, 2022.

Support Our Teachers is an out-of-state independent expenditure committee that was first registered with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board Sept. 29, whose representatives said they were approached by in-state residents about the Brainerd School Board Race.

“We're focused on supporting pro-public education candidates who can stand up to radical extremists running to take over Brainerd's schools. Our campaign is entirely funded by local residents,” Support Our Teachers Chair Matt Smart wrote in an email statement Monday, Oct. 31.

According to state statute, independent expenditure political groups can campaign for or against candidates but cannot make contributions to or approved expenditures on behalf of candidates.

"Independent expenditure" is defined as an expenditure expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate if the expenditure is made without consent or authorization of the candidate.

The other campaign material drumming up conversation was one handed out to attendees of a recent Brainerd High School football game. One side of the handout contained bullet points about declining graduation numbers and proficiency rates in the district, along with assertions of the district overstepping parental rights and lowering expectations of success. It also references apparent state level pushes to include “Marxist principles” such as critical race theory and fluid sexual identity into public schools.

The other side of the handout states “Don’t divide the vote!” “Teach our children how to think, not what to think!” and “Education not indoctrination.” The handout urges voters to vote for DJ Dondelinger, Lowell Smith, Randy Heidmann, Trevor Mulholland and Anthony Bonsante. It did not state a person or group from which it came, posing questions about its origin from some in the community.


The candidates said they did not know about the handout ahead of time, but Bonsante said it came from a group called Constitutional Conservative Christians. He noted the material did not say anything negative about any of the other candidates.

Dondelinger, Heidmann and Mulholland all said they did not have an issue with the handout either, even if they did not know about it beforehand.

“Am I against it? Not really. I think it had some great call outs on it,” Mulholland said.

Dondelinger said he didn’t read every bullet point but didn’t think his beliefs were far off from those stated on the handout.

Heidmann said he believed there was some good information on the handout and it just served to articulate the goals of the five candidates. He and others agreed, however, the School Board race has become too politicized.

“It is turning into politics, and hopefully here in the local district we can stay away from politics and just focus on academic excellence for our children,” Heidmann said.

Smith, the fifth candidate listed, said he did not agree with everything in the handout. Unless the information referenced ideas like increasing parental support, removing divisive politics from the classroom, promoting transparency or focusing on academic success, he said it is not the platform on which he is running.

“Special interest groups can back any candidate, and we have no control over that,” Smith said. “... Special interest groups will put messaging of who they’re supporting and how they want to do it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a liberal or conervative side. I would have not had my name attached. That’s not my messaging.”

The election

There are three full four-year terms open on the Brainerd School Board, along with two special two-year seats.

Incumbents Black Lance and Speer are running alongside Dondelinger, Heidman, Korentayer, Smith and Derek Owen for the four-year seats. Voters can choose up to three candidates on the ballot.

Bonsante, Brekken, Mulholland and Ward are running for the two-year seats alongside Tris Cluever, Jessica Forsberg, Mike Stanek, David Stimac and Brent Yaunick. Voters can choose up to two candidates.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
What To Read Next
Area school closings, delayed starts and early dismissals, business, event and meeting notices. Check back for updates to these listings.
Mom protects her cheeks with moleskin at ski meet.
Students recognized for achievements
Subscribe and listen to the Brainerd Dispatch Minute at, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.