Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Posted by Bret Gustafson at 1:29 PM
Friday, April 5, 2019
Recap of SLPS Elections, April 2019, by Susan Turk/St Louis Schools Watch. Thoughts on dark money, the lost lawsuit against charters, and possible return to elected board governance this month
St. Louis Schools Watch
By Susan Turk
April 4, 2019-St. Louis—
April 2, 2019 BOARD OF EDUCATION RESULTS
Total Votes 32992
ADAM LAYNE 7179 21.76%
DAVID MERIDETH 5254 15.93%
LOUIS CROSS 2544 7.71%
BARBARA ANDERSON 6033 18.29%
WILLIAM HAAS 3653 11.07%
TRACEE MILLER 6294 19.08%
DAN MCCREADY 1614 4.89%
Write-in Votes 421 1.28%
So, Adam Layne and Tracee Miller have won the election for two open seats on the school board, which only goes to prove that in a low turn out election, money makes a tremendous difference.
Layne adopted the same strategy used by Charli Cooksey when she ran four years ago. She benefitted from a $30,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity, a Teach For America affiliated entity, which enabled her to disseminate three city-wide mailers the week before the election and win. Teach for America encourages its former corps members to run for school boards across the country. Remember that Layne worked for Cooksey at the now defunct InspireStL program and succeeded her as its executive director. Now he will succeed her onto the school board. Her large out of state funder was a known entity which contributed directly to her campaign. His windfall was laundered through a political action committee, Civil PAC, and its source, Public School Allies, is untraceable. Given the extremes to which Layne’ went to conceal the identity of his supporters to win his seat on the board, he will bear scrutiny throughout his tenure.
Aside from Cooksey and Layne, Miller is also a veteran of T4A. Miller benefited from a $1,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity. But she raised an additional $6,000 on her own which she used to buy ads on Facebook. She utilized the same strategy which Natalie Vowell found successful, campaigning on social media.
None of the other candidates made an effort to raise much even after it was apparent that Layne, Miller and McCready were benefiting from a Sinquefield sponsored push poll in early March.
Nor did it help that AFT Local 420 endorsed three candidates, diluting the votes of people who look to them for guidance.
The SLPS lost a lawsuit last week. They had sued all of the charter schools in the city hoping to recover $50 million in sales tax dollars approved by voters in 1999 to enable the end of the federal desegregation case and subsequently sued for and shared with the charters. since they won a lawsuit to get access to that funding source. The district was hoping to stop the charters from receiving future disbursements from that tax revenue as well.
The State Board Of Education will be meeting in an as yet to be determined place in St. Louis on April 15th and 16th. It is expected that during that meeting, they will approve the return of the elected school board to governance. Once the elected board returns to governance, hopefully citizens will again attend their meetings. Nothing enables direct oversight of elected officials like attendance at their public meetings.
The next Board of Education election will be April, 2021 for three seats. Perhaps SLPS parents should consider starting their own political action committee to raise funds for city wide mailers for the next board election campaign. Two years ought to be enough time to raise $20,000. With the victory of two T4A corps veterans this election cycle, there are sure to be more of them running next time. It’s never too early to plan for the future.
Posted by Bret Gustafson at 8:12 AM
Monday, April 1, 2019
More on Tuesday's St Louis Schoolboard Election (via Susan Turk): Write-in candidate, a correction to prior reported endorsement, and more on the dark-money...
St. Louis Schools Watch
April 1, 2019--St. Louis--Retraction: In our last issue, we erroneously reported that incumbent board member and write-in candidate Katie Wessling hoped that people who voted for her would also vote for another specific candidate. That was incorrect. Sitting board members never endorse school board candidates.
Candidate Forum Last Licks
The March 25th candidate forum differed from the March 13th forum in that Tracee Miller took part. Some of the questions covered the same ground as the earlier forum so rather than supply repeat answers, this report will showcase different things that were said. Since Miller missed the first one, there will be an emphasis on her but only because her answers are new material.
In her opening statement Tracee Miller told us she was born in Indiana and majored in English and secondary education in college. She did not feel ready to teach when she graduated and became an editor. Her next job was teaching in SLPs at Gateway Middle School. She did not mention that was as a member of the Teach for America program.) She realized that policy issues stymie success so she left SLPS and went to work for Blueprint Schools Network in an academic programming position. But, she had problems with the bureaucracy. She concluded that partner programs were not being monitored properly and they were actually stealing from the classroom. She concluded that communities know what’s best for their students. Top down decisions don’t work.
The first question tackled how SLPS addressed the challenge of homeless and housing insecure students. Barbara Anderson replied that counselors and social workers should address homelessness. The board can’t secure housing. Louis Cross replied that staff don’t always know when a student is homeless. That finding out has to be improved. The SLPS has the premier students in transition program (homeless services). Bill Haas emphasized how Dr. Adams was doing everything he could to help students in transition and reiterated that he wanted to be elected to protect Dr. Adams’ job because he believes the teachers’ union wants to have him fired. Adam Layne replied that housing insecurity usually indicated other problems, such as food insecurity, unreliable transportation, and capacity to ensure cleanliness all of which are barriers to education. He suggested using vacant school buildings as resource centers and working with aldermen to make this happen. David Merideth reported that the district has six to eight thousand students who don’t have a home. There are lots of ways to help and we have to find a way to work with them. Every school has to have a social worker, and nurse to help teachers understand the impact of trauma on children. Federal programs can help fund social workers, he said.. Tracee Miiller recounted her personal story of trying to get help for a homeless family. She said it was hard to reach the district administrator whose help she needed by phone and that when finally contacted, was only given a shelter list that she already had and when was not helpful because all the spots were full. She said every school needs a social, worker, counselor and nurse and wrap around services.
Asked about charter schools, Haas said no one begrudged parents wanting the best education for their children deciding to send them to charter schools.. SLPS has the most difficult to educate and less money to do it with. He said the accreditation and financial rules are different and SLPS needs to be so good that no one needs to send their children to charter schools.. Tracee Miller said that we need to educate all children. There should be collaboration between schools with different resources. Schools should work together to address student needs. Charters are not going away so there should be meaningful collaboration.
The next question asked how board members would stand with parents and community supporters of the schools.
Haas reported that he attends parent assembly meetings (now called the Parent Action Council). That they are not well attended, few schools are represented and that he would work to get all schools represented. Layne said that parents have power but feel that they don’t, that parents are banned from some schools because they advocate too hard and that sends a bad message. There has to be a parent leadership group, parent involvement is a big plus for the board which should go into the community and schools to listen to parents. Merideth said that as a parent he would continue to work with the Parent Action Council and PTOs. He commended the board for being in schools. He added that we need to reach out to parents to rebuild connections and trust. Miller reported that she was banned from her godson’s school. This dissuades parents by not letting them fulfill their roles. The district doesn’t do home visits anymore. You can’t reach administrators by phone and the district doesn’t poll parents to determine their needs. They schedule meetings when parents can’t come and don’t announce them in time for parents to schedule to attend. Anderson talked about the family fun night she scheduled when she was principal at Lexington Elementary, how they taught parents about their children’s lessons and were rewarded with more parental engagement.. She also opened the school for community meetings. Cross said he would piggy back on what Dr. Anderson said because parental engagement and cooperation efforts are the best way. He noted that many parents work two jobs so it takes lots of effort to get parents involved. He noted that Dr. Anderson’s strategies worked and added the need to cluster schools to spread improvement.
The next question addressed inequities between magnet and neighborhood schools in terms of resources and outcomes and how board members would increase equity.
Layne gave a surprising answer. He said that students without IEPs have more money directed to their education. He insisted that IEPs make it look like they are getting more money but that is not the case. He mentioned that gifted students comprise only 24% of the programming and that the money spent on the 77% (those were his numbers) need to be looked at because we need to take a strategic look at the budget. (Before the SAB ran the district, annual reports were produced and made public which showed the amount of money spent per pupil per school. The gifted elementary was usually one of the lowest funded. School budgets are augmented by Title I, ESOL special education and summer school programming little of which was spent on gifted education. Layne also consistently equates magnet school funding with gifted education. He does not appear to know that there are only 4 gifted magnet schools out of twenty-four schools gifted schools. Nor does he appear to know that of the assumed $10 million in sales tax money that was supposed to fund magnet programs after the 1999 federal desegregation lawsuit settlement approximately one third of that revenue goes to the charter schools because of a lawsuit they filed claiming a piece of it. If Layne thinks disproportionate money is spent on gifted or magnet programs, he ought to consider where the revenue for the charter school whose board he sits on will get its funding before he attempts to deprive children in SLPS magnet schools of funding.
Merideth stressed the need to refocus on neighborhood schools, something he has said repeatedly and to help them get more grants. (His youngest attends pre-K at Sigel.) Miller spoke to the need to educate parents and students about the options magnets offer, She said many parents are not well informed about the magnets or the application process. She also said some magnets do not offer the option they are supposed to but did not elaborate. Anderson said all schools should be magnet schools. That is an interesting idea. It would entail open enrollment throughout the district and require more busing which is expensive. The state does not fully fund transportation costs and penalizes the SLPS for not transporting students to the school closest to their homes, in other words, for having magnet schools. The state subtracts transportation dollars from the SLPS’ allocation because we have magnet schools. Anderson understands there are inequities and questioned why we could not give all students the resources to make their wishes come true. Cross, who supervised gifted education for seven years noted that when the SLPS was under federal supervision the magnets did receive larger budgets but that is no longer the case. He then mentioned the excellence of Laclede Elementary which is a neighborhood school when (Joyce Roberts was principal) and agreed with Anderson about making all schools themed magnet schools. Haas reminded everyone that the magnets were required by the desegregation case, that the board had tried to equalize funding and then returned to his focus on ensuring all students read on grade level by third grade.
Better Budgets Better Schools held a candidate forum March 30th at the O’Fallon Park Rec Center. They focus on the equitable distribution of school resources across the city and transparency in the budget process. They asked all of the candidates to endorse their call for a transparent budget development process in SLPS which allows for community and parental input, four public meetings per year that inform the public about the budget and the publication of electronic and paper reports on the budget with detailed and easy to understand information be made available to the public. Anderson, Layne, Merideth and Miller endorsed their goals and answered a candidate questionnaire before the meeting. Cross and Haas endorsed their goals during the meeting. The candidates’ answers to their questionnaire can be read at https://www.wepowerstl.org/better-budgets-better-schools.
Analysis and Endorsement
Most of the candidates running this time are well educated regarding the issues impacting urban education. Most but not all are aware of the history of what has been done to the SLPS by political interference over the past twenty years. It is hard to distinguish between them on many issues concerning education alone. But there are differences that mark several of them as standouts.
The Watch has always favored SLPS parents as school board candidates. Founded by SLPS parent Peter Downs, the Watch vision statement, is still published at the bottom of each issue. It states, “The St. Louis Schools Watch was founded on the premises that parental and community involvement is needed for good schools to flourish, and that public participation is a cornerstone of democracy. St. Louis Schools Watch offers information and analysis that we hope contributes to a public debate over what changes are necessary to improve St. Louis public schools and what works.” Nothing says parental involvement like running for a seat on the Board Of Education. David Merideth is a parent and a candidate who has impressed stakeholders across the city. He has been endorsed by Local 420, the St. Louis American, Action Reunion, St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Eighth Ward independent Democrats. Having had children attend both neighborhood and magnet schools, he understands the challenges and strengths all of our schools face. He emphasizes the importance of the district marketing itself by reaching out to the community at neighborhood association meetings. He will be an advocate for parents and a leader who will appeal to parents considering enrolling their children in SLPS. His youngest child is a pre-schooler so Merideth will be active in SLPS for years to come. He had demonstrated a collaborative spirit and a commitment to democratically elected governance of the SLPS. The Watch enthusiastically endorses David Merideth,.
Would that there were only two seats open this time. Last week the Watch learned that incumbent Board Member and SLPS parent Katie Wessling decided at the last minute to file to run as a write-in candidate. After serving three terms on the board for the duration of the time that the Board has been deprived of governance, it is sad that Wessling’s knowledge and commitment to educational equity could not have been put to use improving outcomes for our students. She served as president of the board of education for three of those years.
Wessling is an attorney working with an organization which advocates for abused women. Her legal background has been an asset to the Board. We wish she had filed for re-election so that her name would appear on the ballot. Winning a write in campaign is difficult. She has not been able to participate in any of the candidate forums or garner endorsements. If you want to know more about her, she has a Face Book page.
In addition to parents, the Watch has traditionally favored candidates who are educators and had a career in the SLPS. Two candidates are retired district teachers and administrators with decades of knowledge and experience in SLPS, Barbara Anderson and Louis Cross. Normally Local 420, St. Louis AFT only endorses enough candidates to fill the seats open in an election But this time, they have endorsed three candidates for two seats because they could not decide between Anderson, Cross and David Merideth so they endorsed all three.
Both Anderson and Cross understand what it takes to enable children to succeed. Anderson recently retired from serving as principal at Lexington elementary, a neighborhood school recognized for its success. She would serve on the Board as an advocate for ensuring the consistent deployment of highly qualified teachers and equitable resources throughout the district, But so would Louis Cross and Cross is favored by many in the community who feel strongly that there is a need for African American men need representation on the Board. Currently all seven board members are women. Cross has ben endorsed by Action Reunion and the St. Louis American. Anderson has been endorsed by the Eighth Ward Democrats.
Given the merits of Anderson, Cross and Wessling, the Watch feels constrained against endorsing a second candidate. This puts us in a compromising position. Any of them would strengthen the Board.
As to why we have not considered the other candidates, Daniel McCready has dropped out of the race although his name will appear on the ballot. As a KIPP charter school employee whose main concern was late busses, he did not have a compelling reason to run for school board.
Tracee Miller’s candidacy is problematic. She appears to have only had negative experiences with SLPS as a Teach for America corps member who taught in the district for three years, a program coordinator and advocate for her godson. One would expect someone running for school board to have more measured experiences with the district, something positive as well. That does not appear to be the case with her. She reported being banned from her godson’s school.
This reporter has known dozens of SLPS parents who over the years have made irritating pains in the neck, not to mention other parts of the body, of themselves while advocating for their children to school principals and district administrators, without getting themselves banned. Banning unfortunately happens from time to time but it is rare. A parent has to cross a line for that to happen. Not knowing the specifics of Miller’s case, it is not possible to judge whether she was treated fairly. However, experience instructs my judgment that one can make quite the pest of oneself and not get banned. It is possible and even necessary at times to be a forceful advocate for one’s own and even other parents’ children and get downright unpleasant in so doing and not get banned from district buildings. A board member has to be able to work with people to accomplish anything. Between leaving teaching when she was not allowed to implement her own curriculum in her class, and getting banned from her godson’s school, Miller may be indicating that she lacks collaborative skills.
After working for SLPS, she in her own words, “moved into a position as a program coordinator with a national education nonprofit organization, where I managed math intervention programs in East St. Louis, St. Louis, Boston, and Holyoke Public Schools.” That was Blueprint Schools Network, which made a bad situation worse at Boston’s Paul S. Dever Elementary School. If you want to read more about that education privatizer’s impact in Boston see https://haveyouheardblog.com/as-the-school-spins/#more-7968. Miller currently works for the privatizing virtual school education powerhouse Khan Academy.
She acknowledged a large donation from Leadership for Educational Equity, an organization affiliated with Teach for America which funds T4A alumni running for school boards across the country. She did not report the total amount of two checks, $1,500 at the Better Budgets, Better Schools candidate forum when asked and claimed that it was a loan which she would repay. She did not report those contributions as loans on her campaign finance reports.. They are listed as direct contributions. That amounts to about a quarter of the $6,000 she raised from friends and relatives around the country which has allowed her to pay for ads on Face Book. On line campaigning is very effective with younger voters and may well get her elected which would be unfortunate. She has the passion but does not appear to have the temperament to be an effective board member.
Former Teach for America Corps Member Adam Layne sees no conflict of interest with his serving on the board of the soon to open Kairos charter school, which will draw students and resources away from SLPS while serving on the elected SLPS school board. He speaks with convincing passion about his reasons for serving on the charter school board. He has yet to articulate equal passion when discussing his reasons for running for our elected Board Of Education. A candidate running for the St. Louis Public Schools Board of Education, ought to hold the SLPS as their primary priority. That does not appear to be the case for Layne.
Lastly, Layne is being supported in his campaign for school board by $20,000 in untraceable dark money from a shadowy organization named Public School Allies. Allies don’t hide their faces. Last November Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected the injection of dark money in our political campaigns by passing the CLEAN ballot initiative. Why elect a school board candidate who does not share those ideals?
Bill Haas is also running. Haas objected to the Watch’s analysis of his candidacy when he ran in the November 2018 school board election. He accused the editor of malice and threatened a lawsuit. Consequently, it is difficult to write about him. Understand why no analysis of his campaign is offered for this election.
There is an unusual amount of support from a variety of quarters for one candidate, David Merideth. There is no consensus for a second candidate and there is considerable money supporting two candidates whom the Watch would rather not see win. It is difficult to speculate as to whom would be the likeliest of Barbara Anderson, Katie Wessling or Louis Cross to win that second seat.
During budget presentations at recent SAB and Board of Education meetings, it has been made clear that it is expected the district will not be able to balance its budget starting next year because of declining revenue and that it will be necessary to either begin to draw down the fund balance—deficit spend—or to cut the drastically bare budget. Both Miller and Layne have suggested there is waste in the budget that can be found and reallocated. That would surprise SAB Chairman Rick Sullivan who bragged about his waste reducing abilities when he took office 12 years ago and to his credit, Sullivan has overseen district staff negotiate down vendors and service providers to lower expenditures. Whoever wins this election is going to join a board which in all likelihood will be returned to governance on July 1 only to find themselves in a tight budget situation which will require difficult decisions. Dreams of fulfilling the needs of all SLPS students will have to be put aside. They will serve at the mercy of a state legislature which is criminally negligent as far as guaranteeing adequate revenue to fund our schools and a city government which prioritizes subsidizing development to the detriment of our schools.
This is going to be a low turn out election. Don’t sit it out. Every vote is needed
The editor encourages readers to forward The Watch to anyone you think would be interested. Our city and our schools need as much public awareness and public engagement as we can muster at this time.
Questions for The Watch? Letters to the Editor? Stories to contribute? News tips? Send them to SLS_Watch@yahoo.com
April 2, 2019, Tuesday, School Board Election. Remember to vote!
April 9, 2019 Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., regular monthly meeting of the Board of Education, 801. North 11th St. room 108, St. Louis, MO 63103.
April 18 2019, Thursday, monthly meeting of the Special Administrative Board, 6:00 p.m., 801 N. 11th Street, room 108
Posted by Bret Gustafson at 9:34 AM
Thursday, March 28, 2019
St Louis Schools Watch: Inside scoop on upcoming STL schoolboard elections, 'dark money' and write-in candidates (via Susan Turk)
St. Louis Schools Watch
School Board Candidate Fundraising Update: Comes the Darkness
By Susan Turk
March 27, 2019—St. Louis--A political action committee named Civil PAC, which received a $20,000 check on March 19th from a group called Public School Allies with a Falls Church, Virginia address, paid for a city-wide mailer for school board candidate Adam Layne. The campaign literature arrived in mail boxes last week.
Civil PAC appears to be a committee of one, namely Joseph Wilson, who identifies himself as its treasurer. Who Public School Allies are appears to be untraceable. It has no internet presence and 6312 Seven Corners Center #354 Falls Church , VA 22044 is the address of a UPS store in the Washington DC suburbs. It is disturbing that a SLPS school board candidate would stoop to resorting to dark money to win the election. But here we are. [NOTE FROM SLSPROJECT: There is more information on 'Public School Allies' gathered via 7th Ward Woman, thread posted here]
This will be a low turnout election and some low information voters will likely be impressed by the only mailer they receive for a school board candidate. According to the required 8 day before an election campaign finance report, Civil PAC filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, about $10,000 was spent on the mailer so there was enough money left over to put another one in the mail before the election next week.
Last Minute Write-In Candidate enters the Race—McCready Bows Out
Incumbent School Board Member Katie Wessling filed with the Board of Election Commissioners last week to be an official write-in candidate in the April 2 school board election. Wessling’s term is up but she did not file to run for re-election. Having served for three terms, after being elected two months before the SAB was appointed to run the district in 2007, she had decided it was time to retire from the board.
Wessling reported that she changed her mind and filed to run as a write-in candidate after the March 13 school board candidate forum. Many constituents contacted her after the forum and told her that they were unimpressed by the candidates, were not going to vote for any of them and wished she were running. So, in the hope that if she ran as a write-in candidate, they might also vote for a second candidate, she filed. Wessling, an SLPS parent, is encouraging people who vote for her to also vote for David Merideth.
Meanwhile, Daniel McCready has dropped out of the race. He has not attended any candidate forums. His name will still be on the ballot however.
HB604, the School Turnaround Act has been perfected in the MO House and will move to the Senate. It had been held up before the Legislature’s spring break by a log jam created by the unwillingness of the House to pass this year’s charter school bill, HB581. HB581 would allow charter schools to open in any county with more than 30,000 residents even if there were no under-performing schools in their school districts. It is essentially a bill to spread charter schools state-wide. Many rural Republican state representatives oppose the spread of charter schools to their districts. There has been an unprecedented amount of arm twisting going on this year to push the bill through. Many bills were held hostage as a result, HB604 among them.
HB604 creates a School Turnaround Fund and a School Intervention Fund which would pay for private outside consultants to advise school districts about how to “improve” low performing schools. It is enabling legislation for the Consortium Partnership Network. Instead of the SLPS having to use GOB funds or the SLPS Foundation having to raise private money to fund the CPN, they would be able to tap into state money to pay for it. So, it’s another way to put public money into private hands.
As a local educator who spoke to the Watch on condition of being quoted anonymously said, “This is the type of legislation that will allow out of state education snake oil salespeople, aka consultants, to come in and take away scarce resources from our students. Targeted intervention schools need greater resources to provide wrap around services for students which will help remove barriers to their learning which in most cases will lead to improved student achievement.”
The whole concept of the CPN is questionable. Students in low performing schools need more resources, and smaller class sizes. Any money allocated for consultants would be better spent on hiring more teachers and support staff to provide under-performing students with the enhanced attention that they need and deserve.
Summary of the March 13 School Board Candidate Forum
So there was a candidate forum March 13 at Central VPA HS. Dan McCready and Tracee Miller did not attend. McCready has dropped out of the race although his name will still appear on the ballot. Miller sent a surrogate to read an opening statement after which she left. Take aways from the opening statements were; Adam Layne advocated for more holistic support for students; David Merideth who knows the district’s problems as an alumni and a parent activist and concluded the best way to resolve them was to run for school board. He will work for later start times to enable students to get more sleep, a known factor for improving learning and achievement. Louis Cross, also an SLPS alumni, has 40 years of experience starting off as a gym teacher and guidance counselor. He also served as a principal and superintendent of a now closed charter school, Ethel Hedgeman Lyle. Dr. Barbara Anderson, another SLPS alumna, spent a 30 year professional career in SLPS and served as principal of Lexington Elementary, a successful neighborhood school. She would emphasize that SLPS is the best choice that parents could make for educating their children. Former Board Member Bill Haas, running to regain a seat on the board, insisted that the teacher’s union agenda is to terminate Superintendent Kelvin Adams’ contract, said he was running because his feelings were hurt when he lost last fall and he wants to improve achievement and support Dr. Adams. The person reading Tracee Miller’s statement gave biographical remarks about her teaching in SLPS for a couple of years and studying for a PhD in education and wanting to push for accountability and choice.
The first question was about what the candidates would do to prepare for training for serving on the board since the sitting school board members are going through extensive training preparing for governance.
Adam Layne replied that he was serving on a charter school board (Kairos Academy which opens the autumn of 2019) and they had undergone training. David Merideth replied that he had undergone board governance training during his military career. Louis Cross replied that he had been president of Local 420 and vice president of the St. Louis Labor Council so he was well prepared. Barbara Anderson said she would take governance classes (all elected board members are required to take 16 hours of training from the Missouri School Boards Assn.) and would look to her fellow board members for guidance.. Bill Haas replied that his 16 years of experience on the board served as a lot of governance training. He said the board would benefit from his experience and expertise.
The candidates were asked what they would do for schools in neighborhoods where population and enrollment were declining.
Cross said programs that people are interested in were needed such as home economics and industrial arts. Anderson said we should ask parents why enrollment is dropping, listen to them and that schools should be provided with wrap around services and programming that is attractive to parents as well as ensure all schools are staffed with highly qualified teachers. Haas replied that it is hard to maintain schools in an area where the population is declining. He suggested turning them into community schools, installing washing machines and social service agencies in the buildings to strengthen the neighborhood. Layne replied they needed to work with developers. Merideth, a real estate agent, agreed about working with developers but also stressed the need to rebuild neighborhood schools by publicizing them to change the community’s impression of the schools.
The next question asked whether candidates had positions with charter schools and why they would want to serve on the SLPS board if they did.
Anderson reported that she is not working for a charter school. Haas reported that he had taught for 2 charter schools, Confluence and Imagine but that he did not think that should be held against him. Layne,who did not repeat that he serves on a charter board, dodged the question saying just that he was for quality schools. Merideth replied that he is not on any charter schools boards but that one of his eleven children attends a charter school because SLPS was not meeting his specific needs. Cross said he is not currently on any charter school boards but that he had served as a principal and a superintendent of a charter school, that it was a good learning experience. He found out why charter schools fail.
The next question asked whether the candidates would favor closing SLPS schools for replacement by charter schools.
Haas said no and that whenever a charter opens, SLPS should open a school across the street and out perform it. Layne said no. Merideth said he was not in favor of opening more charter schools or closing public schools. He said charters shouldn’t exist if they don’t perform. Cross said SLPS schools shouldn’t close in favor of charters and that private schools shouldn’t be allowed to transform into charters. Anderson said no, that she didn’t believe in anything that takes funding from SLPS or anything that takes away from traditional neighborhood schools.
The next question asked whether a board member could serve 2 masters, public schools and charter schools.
Layne said he did not serve the schools, “I serve the students.” (This question appeared to be aimed squarely at Layne and he dodged again.) He continued to defend his Kairos charter as one that would have 100% certificated teachers even though it was only required to have 80% certificated and criticized the SLPs for not allowing the principals of its SIG (low performing) schools from utilizing needed funding. He also said he agreed to serve on the charter board because African American males are underrepresented on charter boards and because he believed in the model for the school. Merideth said that if he were working in a charter school and actively recruiting for a charter that he would not be doing his job as an SLPS board member. Cross reiterated that he is not on a charter board. Anderson said one shouldn’t serve two masters and went off on a riff about neighborhood schools. Haas said he doesn’t serve two masters and went on to talk about his concern about third grade reading scores, the need to place a second qualified teacher in primary grade classrooms and the need to find funding for that.
The next question pertained to maintaining the district’s budget and the candidates spending priorities.
Merideth said his priority would be allocating the $5 million it would take to have enough buses to only need two start times so that the earliest bell time would be later than the current one for high school students. Data has proven that learning is negligible during the first period in the morning. Starting later would raise academic achievement. Cross said he would defer to Dr. Adams to determine areas needing more allocations but he thought lower grades reading, math and support systems would be priorities. Anderson agreed with what Cross said adding full time nurses, counselors and social workers. Haas echoed Merideth’s call for later start times and supported Dr. Adams’ wish to pay math, science and special education teachers more than required by their contract with the union, a dispute currently in arbitration. Haas takes Dr. Adams’ word on the need to pay more for hard to fill teaching positions. Layne said he would allocate funds to strengthen schools in jeopardy of closing, supplying them with wrap around services and counselors so the schools don’t fail.
The next question pertained to children with IEPs (individual learning plans, special education students), what to do to make sure they aren’t failing and make sure they receive required services.
Cross spoke about providing children who needed it additional time for learning as determined by staff. Anderson spoke about over labeling children and the need to use alternative learning strategies to avoid over labeling. Haas countered that many student need IEPs and have a hard time getting them. He reverted to talking about the need for intensive reading instruction to build vocabulary and improve third grade reading scores. Layne said that IEP meetings are often rushed and must be slowed down, involve more people and provide more support. Merideth reported that four of his children have IEPs. He said more special ed staff and support for special ed teachers is needed. Merideth is a foster and adoptive parent with trauma informed training. He stressed the need to address the child’s needs and take some of the load off the teachers.
The nest question asked what the candidates thought about the best SLPS strategies worth keeping.
Anderson replied team teaching, small class sizes and in school suspension rooms. Haas said he was not sure how to answer the question until he heard Anderson speak. He continued that the more he heard David Merideth speak, the more he liked Merideth’s candidacy. Then he answered the question with in school suspension rooms. Layne said the autonomous running of buildings, trusting school leaders, structuring the school day so that students have some free time as is done in Metro and Collegiate high schools so that students have time to visit counselors and develop student leadership skills. Merideth said he would rely on staff and Dr. Adams to determine what is working. But he also said they should expand offering free dinner meals in the schools which serve as after school homework centers. He also agreed with Layne on blocking time for students to visit counselors. Cross replied with gifted programming, magnet schools, clustering regular schools to do some of the things done in magnets, accelerated programs and more assistant principals in schools with more than 400 students.
The next question asked about making students STEM ready, especially girls and expanding apprenticeships.
Haas said STEM was important but immediately returned to his talking point about third grade reading scores so basically he dodged the question. Layne said he was a big fan of expanding apprenticeships.
Merideth said he believes STEM is important. Two of his children graduated from Gateway STEM HS and three more are currently enrolled. He thought there should be more emphasis on robotics. He also said Gateway STEM HS was the best example of SLPS’ current use of apprenticeships. Their students can graduate with certification in several fields. He suggested partnering with trade organizations to expand apprenticeship programs.
Cross spoke about the successful partnership SLPS has with Washington University where Wash U students work with Compton Drew Middle School students on robotics and coding. He thought this could be duplicated at other schools. He suggested greater utilization of Fontbonne and Webster Universities to impact more schools.
Anderson, a graduate of O’Fallon tech HS, the predecessor of Gateway STEM HS, said STEM was important and needed to be duplicated. She is a strong advocate for vocational education especially for “young ladies.”
The next question pertained to seeking money to fund the school district from outside groups, should the district sell vacant school buildings (they do whenever possible) or form initiatives with private groups and foundations?
Layne replied that vacant buildings could be reopened as resource centers. The north side needs development. Tax abatements should be applied to redevelop them.
Merideth replied that tax abatements cost the city $200 million last year and that corporations don’t need them. The loss of revenue from abatements drives enrollment down. He advocated using vacant buildings for community centers. Cross spoke about meeting with groups who want to get into business working with our kids. Grants should be used to allow that to happen in vacant schools.
Anderson agreed that if school buildings are going to waste, they should be sold or developed. She is against tax give aways which rob children who need resources. She also said she was wary of many who want to donate money but where there are strings attached Haas said vacant buildings are an issue. He is against tax abatements which took $60 million from the SLPS last year. Most abatements go to the Central West End which doesn’t need them. He mentioned the district not having enough money to buy Chromebooks for all students like the Ritenour school district where he substitute teaches does.
Haas said he was different from the other candidates in that he had served four terms on the school board. He emphasized that nothing was more important than early childhood reading. Then, as previously reported in the Watch, Haas mentioned that he was running for two offices at the same time because he was also running for President of the United States in 2020. Haas said, “That’s crazy but it is good to hold onto your dreams. If I have to leave in two years, you’ll understand and I’ll try hard not to take Dr. Adams for Secretary of Education.” Haas continued that people should vote for him because Dr. Adams in not going anywhere while he, Haas, is there. The fix is in, otherwise. Dr. Adams is terrific and we need to keep him.
Anderson reminded those present that she had spent nearly her entire life in SLPS, knowing it from the bottom to the top. She believes in educational autonomy. “Educators need the power to decide what works best for children. Cookie cutter strategies don’t work.”
Cross said that he is the right choice because of his over 40 years of experience. He has been a leader in every capacity. He wants a quality education for every child. He also gave Dr. Adams credit for having the expertise to make success happen.
Merideth said, “I am not an educator. My job is to hold the district accountable as a parent.” He went on to say that his military career had prepared him for the board by training him to find efficiencies without effecting personnel. His priority would be increasing enrollment by selling SLPS at neighborhood meetings. The charter schools do this. “We need to be there and sell ourselves,” he said.
Layne closed with a repeat of his biography. He is not from St. Louis, attended the Boston public schools, then attended an independent school, a private school. He considered himself to have been lucky to have done that. He compared his heavy backpack to his neighborhood friends who had no books. He mentioned the need to provide support, to advocate for educational equity. He reported that he is only 30 years old so does not have 30-40 years’ experience but has passion to transform outcomes. If not elected he said he would still work in education to increase enrollment, increase support and quality, give families a voice and engage with civic leaders.
From SLSPROJECT: See also, reporting on the forum from St. Louis American
From SLSPROJECT: See also, reporting on the forum from St. Louis American
March 30, 2019, Saturday, Better Budgets better Schools School Board Candidate forum, O’Fallon Park Rec Center., 1:00 p.m.
April 2, 2019, Tuesday, School Board Election. Remember to vote!
April 9, 2019 Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., regular monthly meeting of the Board of Education, 801. North 11th St. room 108, St. Louis, MO 63103.
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Posted by Bret Gustafson at 11:38 AM