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St. Louis school board election comes months ahead of return to power

Bill Haas, center, speaks during a candidate forum for the St. Louis Board of Education Oct. 24, 2018. Haas has served 16 years on the board. He's flanked by Adam Layne and Jared Opsal.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Bill Haas, center, speaks during a candidate forum for the St. Louis Board of Education Wednesday. Haas has served 16 years on the board. He's flanked by Adam Layne and Jared Opsal.

Elections for the St. Louis Board of Education have been largely meaningless over the last decade.

A special administrative board has run St. Louis Public Schools since 2007, leaving the seven-member elected board with almost no power.

That’s about to change.

On Nov. 6, voters will choose two positions on the St. Louis Board just months before the elected board is expected to regain control over the school district. The special administrative board, made up of three appointees, voted in January to return control of SLPS back the elected board. The State Board of Education is expected to make that official next year.

Two incumbents, Donna Jones and Bill Haas are running for re-election against five challengers. The seven candidates spoke at a candidate forum hosted by the SLPS Foundation and League of Women Voters last week.

Haas said the current board is made up of “mostly well-meaning neophyte rookies” who need his experience during the transition.

But some district watchers say there’s a desire for new perspectives on the board. Marty Murray is a 7th Ward Democratic committeeman and close board watcher. He’s endorsing Jones for re-election but not Haas.

“I think that when you have people who have been on for quite a while to have that experience and some of the new energy in the candidates that are running now,” he said. “I think that will definitely put us in a better state.”

At the forum, Haas lashed out at outside influencers of the school board.

“I’m an independent voice who can’t be controlled by anybody and I belong on the board,” Haas said. “No one should control the board except the people and our own judgment.”

Charter schools were an early topic of the forum.

Adam Layne, a former Teach For America corps member in SLPS who is also on the board of a new charter school, said educating all students in the city should be important.

But non-profit administrator Jared Opsal said no new charter schools should be allowed to open now that Sthe district is fully accredited by the state education department.

All candidates said the mayor should have an increased role in the district, through advocacy, reforming tax incentives or mentorship.

Candidates split on whether Teach For America should be used to supply educators for the district. David Jackson said TFA is a necessary source of teachers, while other candidates said they lead to turnover in classrooms because most serve only two years.

The seven candidates are:

  • Bill Haas is a semi-retired attorney who substitute teaches in St. Louis County schools. The 74-year-old was on the school board from 1997-2005 and again since 2010. He’s also run for numerous other political offices. He advocates for improving third-grade reading proficiency and adding a second instructor to every classroom.
  • Cydney Johnson is a 28-year-old heir to Dorothy’s Cleaners in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood, who also mentors teens. He wants to make STEM education a priority.
  • Donna Jones, 61, was elected to the board in 2006. She has a granddaughter in the district and her daughter, Susan Jones, is also on the board. Jones supports more transparency in budgeting.
  • Adam Layne, 29, taught at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy as a Teach For America corps member. He now works for InspireSTL. He’s also a board member of Kairos Academies, a charter school scheduled to open next year.
  • Jared Opsal, 37, is executive director of The North American Society of German Culture and Heritage. Opsal’s platform centers around improving social services for students.
  • Joyce Roberts is a retired St. Louis teacher and administrator. The 69-year-old boasts of 47 years of experience in education. She wants to improve community engagement with the district.
  • David Jackson is a self-employed business owner trying to win back a seat on the board. Jackson, 61, was on the board from 2007-2015. He wants to expand magnet schools and improve quality of all SLPS buildings.

The April 2017 election to fill three positions on the board was seen as a test of perception of the board. Bill Monroe, who had previously disrupted transition talks, was voted off the board. Susan Jones won re-election to the board. Natalie Vowell and Dorothy Rohde Collins were newly elected.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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