Fridley School Board
Two union members run
for Fridley school board
Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review
October 21, 2023
[Updated November 5, 2023]
By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor
FRIDLEY — Two union members are running for Fridley school board. One-term incumbent Jake Karnopp is a member of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 9. First-time candidate Erik Keeler is a first-year apprentice and member of Plumbers Local 15. Both Karnopp and Keeler are running with the endorsement of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.
The MRLF also has endorsed a third candidate in the race, incumbent Sara Jones.
Jones, Karnopp and Keeler are running together as a slate in a field of five candidates, with the top three to be elected.
Jake Karnopp: NALC Branch 9 member
First elected in 2019, Jake Karnopp says his overall priority as a Fridley school board member has been “making sure our kids have a safe environment to learn in that challenges them.”
Karnopp said running for school board initially grew out of his community involvement as a volunteer coach, getting to know kids and their families.
His decision to run for school board four years ago was “a natural progression that made sense.”
“There was a need for board members to be more in tune with the community; I felt I met that at the time,” he adds.
In his first term, Karnopp says, he helped advocate for the district to install solar panels on all its school buildings. “We’ll save a ton of money,” he reports, plus there’s a STEM component (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for the kids to learn about solar energy.
“I’m big on career readiness,” Karnopp says. He thinks the district should be putting as much thought behind getting kids ready for college as getting them ready for technical careers or careers in the building trades. “A lot of kids I talk to don’t know they have another option,” he says. “When we talk with families and kids, they’re blown away when they learn how much money they can earn in an apprentice program while not incurring college debt.”
Karnopp has been a member of NALC Branch 9 for 23 years. He currently works as an assistant to the business agent for NALC’s Region 7. He has served Branch 9 members in a variety of roles, including steward, grievance handler, arbitration advocate, trustee, and recording secretary.
Years ago, Karnopp’s grandmother, who worked as a postal clerk and as a member of the American Postal Workers Union, encouraged Karnopp and a cousin to take the test and apply for jobs at the U.S. Postal Service. “She convinced both of us to take the test,” he relates. They did and found new careers in union jobs. “It definitely benefited both of our families to take her advice,” he says.
Karnopp started working first as a member of the mail handlers union, then transferred to become a letter carrier.
Karnopp is an 18-year resident of Fridley and has a son who is a 6th grader in the district’s Sibley Middle School.
Erik Keeler: Plumbers Local 15 member
For Erik Keeler, running for Fridley school board is a way to give back to the school district where he received his own education. He attended Fridley Middle School and is a 2013 graduate of Fridley High School. “I have great memories there and I want to see it thrive,” he says.
Like Karnopp, “I’ve been involved in the community” as a volunteer, Keeler says. “I wanted to be more involved and I wanted have a bigger impact.”
As a school board member, “I will strive to address aging facilities and long-term planning to ensure students have access to buildings, technology and grounds to help them prosper in academics, the arts, and athletics,” Keeler says. “Increasing access and opportunities in this small school district is important. Students deserve the very best and as school board members we must be our students’ number-one advocates in getting the resources they need to excel. Homeowners bear the tax burden because the majority of the district is residential and we lack a business tax base. Advocacy for more equitable funding structures at the state and federal level is of paramount importance to the long-term success of Fridley Public Schools.”
Keeler celebrates the Fridley school district’s strong International Baccalaureate program but echoes Karnopp in saying, “I think there are a lot of students fit for the trades who might not realize that’s an option for them. While I am thankful for my graduate degree, I wish I would have started my career as a plumber a lot sooner.”
“One of my top priorities is ensuring students have support for post-graduation planning,” Keeler says, whether that’s a path to college or to the trades.
After high school, Keeler earned a bachelor’s degree from Eternity Bible College in 2017 and a master’s degree at Dallas Theological Seminary in 2019.
He worked as a student pastor, he reports, but decided it was not his calling.
“I was doing welding for a little bit while I was going to school,” he explains, discovering “I really enjoyed working with my hands.”
“I wanted to be working with my hands and helping people that way,” Keeler says.
Initially working non-union, “I realized how under-paid I was,” Keeler says.
He joined Plumbers Local 15 and is now a first-year apprentice and working for Paul Bunyan Plumbing. “I’m thankful,” he says. “I like helping people and I like service work.”
Other union endorsements
In addition winning the AFL-CIO endorsement from the MRLF, Karnopp and Keeler, together with Sara Jones, also have been endorsed by:
• Education Minnesota
• LiUNA Minnesota & North Dakota
• SEIU Minnesota State Council
|“I know the value of getting out there and knocking on doors,” Karnopp adds. “Doorknocking is great for the campaign.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’m looking forward to election day,” Keeler says.
For more information:
Jake4Fridley Facebook page
Erik Keeler for Fridley School Board Facebook page
Sara Jones for Fridley Schools Facebook Page