Ferguson-Florissant school board candidates weigh in on voting rights case | St. Louis Public Radio

Ferguson-Florissant school board candidates weigh in on voting rights case

Apr 2, 2017

The Ferguson-Florissant school board election Tuesday will use a voting system a federal judge ruled unconstitutional last year.

The judge ruled that method unfair to African-Americans and ordered the district to implement cumulative voting, which allows for as many votes to be cast as there are seats up for election. Those votes may all be cast for the same candidate or may be spread around as a voter sees fit.

But because the district appealed, this year’s election is still operating under the old, at-large system. That means, with five candidates running for three open board seats, residents will cast one vote for each of the three candidates they like.

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Six of the seven current school board members voted to appeal the judge's ruling in December, including both incumbents on the upcoming ballot, Donna Thurman and Rob Chabot.

“When you look at the make-up of the current board, right now we have four Caucasians and three African-Americans. That is what the statistical analysis shows the make-up of our board should be,” Chabot said.

“My children, who are Caucasian, go to McCluer, and there it’s 85 percent African-American. So race has never bothered me,” Chabot added. “What I look for more is the quality of the leadership. If my child is in a classroom, no matter what race they are, no matter if they’re male or female, what I want is to make sure that that teacher is a high-qualified, high-quality teacher. It’s the same thing for the principal, the superintendent and even school board members.”

Chabot, who was in office when the school board controversially placed then-district superintendent Art McCoy on leave, said he is running again because he likes the direction the district is going, with strong finances and improved academics.

Jessica Ponder, who is running for office for the first time, also supports the current board’s decision to appeal to keep at-large voting.

“I just would like to see the board members and the people who filed the suit come to some middle ground here. What they were fighting for it seems that they have achieved,” Ponder said. “They wanted more diversity on the board, and in my opinion the board is currently very diverse.”

The three candidates elected Tuesday will join two white members and two black members on the Ferguson-Florissant school board.

Ponder, who is white, said she hopes her experience working as a reading specialist at Riverview Gardens shows that she is “going to fight for every kid in her community.”

She said she wants to be on the school board to help encourage young families to stay in the district.

The final two candidates running for the board are Roger Hines and Donna Dameron. Both ran unsuccessful campaigns to join the board last year. Neither candidate responded to interview requests.

But whether Hines and Dameron support the appeal or not, a majority of the current candidates do. And that means regardless who wins Tuesday, the way the next election is held will most likely be decided in court.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled McCluer High School.