Monday, September 25, 2017

On STL Retired Teachers: The Injustice of the Teachers' Pension Board -- via Delores Mills

This post shared from Delores Mills' list serve.  I neither endorse, nor do I not endorse, these positions. - BG

Re:  Our upcoming Retirement Board election:  

Joe Clark is again a candidate for trustee of our pension board.  In his biographical statement that we recently received, he stated that he had been on the pension board for 18 years-- a long time.  Yet, we have not had a COLA in eleven years with no talk of receiving one.  In fact, I understand that recently, the SAB  persuaded the Missouri Legislature to pass a bill which requires that our fund be 
100% funded before a COLA  can be approved for SLPS  retirees.  I understand also that the pension board (trustees-- there are eleven)  and the former union president, Mary Armstrong testified in favor of this awful bill which basically will prevent us from ever receiving  a COLA.That 100% funding is practically an impossibility,    This stipulation only applies to us, not to the other pension fund, PSRS of Missouri, which represents all other school districts in Missouri, except St. Louis and Kansas City.

As our advocate, why didn't Joe Clark, the president/chairperson of our pension board make certain that we were  notified  of these negative changes? He has been chairperson for at least 5-10 years.

Now, let's take a look at his attitude, since he has been negligent in making certain that we received important communication.

When the few of us attend the pension board meetings, which Erma Nevels and I have been faithfully attending for at least 12 years, here are some of the insults that we have to endure in the hostile climate which Joe Clark presides over:

They refuse to turn on the microphone so that we can hear the discussions.  During the last meeting when we complained, Joe Clark looked at us, did not acknowledge our complaint, ; he rolled his eyes, and ignored us.  The 10-11 trustees also ignored us.

As they talked about increasing the insurance premiums and insurance subsidy, it was difficult to hear; Erma raised her hand and asked if they would speak louder; Joe Clark paused, gave her a hostile look, and he and the group continued to ignore us.

They refused to introduce us to the insurance vendor/consultant who was making a presentation  and discussing the $80 insurance supplement which they claim that retirees receive-- they placed the literature on the overhead projector so that the trustees could follow the discussion, although they had the literature before them.  Because we could not see very well and did not have the literature, Erma asked for a copy; they ignored her and continued with the discussion.  

Led by the president/chairperson of the pension boaard, Joe Clark, they maintained the usual hostile climate as we sat there trying to learn about the decisions that they were making about our financial fate.

Lastly, they went into closed session without giving a reason, so we had to leave.

P.S   Darnetta Clinkscale has recently been appointed by CEO, Rick Sullivan to sit on our pension board--she ran with three others, Ron Jackson, Robert Archibald, Vince Schoemehl as a slate in about 2004 o 2005..  The St, Louis voters  rejected the entire slate.  Now she has been appointed by CEO

 to sit on both boards-- pension board and the school board.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

St Louis Elite Planning on How to Control Public Education Going Forward?

An update, via Susan Turk, St. Louis SchoolsWatch:

St. Louis Schools Watch

Lining Up The Ducks
By Susan Turk

September 4, 2017--St. Louis--At their August 8, 2017 regular monthly public meeting St. Louis Board of Education President Susan Jones reported that she had been interviewed by SLPS Foundation President Jane Donahue as part of a foundation initiative to study governance of the SLPS. Towards that end the foundation was interviewing 8 people.  In addition to Board President Jones, SLPS Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams, SAB Chair Rick Sullivan, Mayor Lyda Krewson, DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven, former DESE Commissioner Chris Nicastro, State Board of Education Member Mike Jones, and former SAB Member Melanie Adams were interviewed.

Board President Jones recounted that in the course of her interview she expressed dismay that the interviewees did not include SLPS teachers, students or parents and did not reflect nor were they representative of SLPS stakeholders.  She was told that the thoughts of those groups would be explored in the future.

Jones was informed that foundation donors have expressed an interest in having a say in the future governance of the SLPS.  Foundation board members are usually donors. The SLPS Foundation board includes representatives from the St. Louis Cardinals organization, Mastercard Worldwide, Wells Fargo Advisors, Ameren, Merrill Lynch, and the St. Louis Regional Chamber just to give an idea as to whose wants a say on governance.

Jones further reported that the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the Regional Business Council were also setting up committees to discuss future governance of the SLPS.  She recounted that she had been told this in confidence so please don’t repeat what you have just read.


The August 15, 2017 State Board of Education meeting discussion about SLPS governance was shorter than expected. It centered on a recommendation from DESE Commissioner Vandeven that the State Board back away from involvement and allow conversations, which she stated had begun between the Elected Board and the SAB, to develop a locally determined transition process. She based her reference to conversations on letters she had received from the SAB and the EB. Those letters were reported on in the previous issue of The Watch. Vandeven expressed concern that a transfer of governance not result in “a jolt” for the district. She noted that the State Board has the authority to make the switch but has no authority to dictate a transition process. The State Board accepted her recommendation without voting on it.   It was noted that the SAB is serving a term through June 2019 so the SAB has plenty of time to work out a transition plan. Then the State Board members laughed.

State Board Member Victor Lenz, who has been attending elected board meetings since March 2016, had told the EB he would report to the State Board about the wonderful things the elected board was doing.  At the State Board public meeting he did not follow through.  The State Board member representing the 1st Congressional District, Mike Jones also refrained from speaking on the elected board’s behalf.

There are no conversations going on between the SAB and the EB regarding transition of the EB back to governance of the SLPS district. 

On August 8th St. Louis Board of Education President Susan Jones sent a letter to Rick Sullivan letting him know that the EB was looking forward to returning to DESE led tri-lateral transition planning discussions.  After the State Board decided to drop out of discussions, Board President Jones sent a follow up letter to all three SAB members informing them that the EB, “looks forward to reconvening transition meetings with the Special Administrative Board.”

To date there have been no meetings.

What communication there was was a June 26 letter from the SAB to Board President Jones asking for the EB to send 2 representatives to SAB meetings to sit in and comment but not vote and for the EB to work with the SAB on public forums to determine public opinions on alternative forms of governance for the SLPS.  Jones responded to Sullivan by phone that the EB did not want to make any decisions about sending representatives to SAB meetings or participating in public forums with the SAB until the restart on transition planning discussions. The SAB has not responded to Jones’ request to hold bi-lateral transition planning talks.

What Vandeven was saying rather heavy handedly on August 15th was that the EB should be good little children and do what the SAB wants them to do.  The State Board isn’t going to mediate.

By concurring with Vandeven’s recommendation, the State Board has abandoned its responsibility to make the decision that is in the best interests of our students and our community, to re-enfranchise our electorate and to return governance of our public school district to our elected BOE. More than 35,000 voters participated in the April school board election, as many voters as participated in the election of Mayor Krewson. Continuing governance by the SAB nullifies their school board votes.

In effect the State Board threw our elected Board of Education to the wolves.  It gave the SAB the time they will need, two years of legislative sessions, to submit bills amending current statutes to create an alternative form of governance for the SLPS.

A year ago, the EB was told that the State Board would consider restarting tri-lateral transition discussions pending the outcome of the April 2017 school board election. With their acceptance of the Commissioner’s recommendation the State Board in effect abandoned the EB to a fate being worked out by the people who really run things in this town, the plutocrats, aka the business community, people who for the most part do not live in the city and do not enroll their children in SLPS. If you recall, we discussed in the previous issue of the Watch that the SAB has taken upon itself the task of studying alternative forms of governance for the SLPS.  Is it a coincidence, that in approximately the same time frame, the SLPS Foundation, the RBC and the SLRC are also studying SLPS governance?

Not at all.  Ducks are being aligned.  At some as yet undetermined point in time, all of these entities will all announce the same conclusion and this publication predicts that it will not be returning governance of the SLPS to the current elected Board of Education.  Things are going according to plan, the plan being the Danforth Freeman Special Advisory Committee Final Report of 2010.

Page 18 of the Report lists recommendations. It states that the SAB, “is a temporary solution…When accreditation is regained, we recommend that DESE initiate a return to a permanent form of governance.  Well ahead of that time the legislature should be asked to amend RSMo 162.1100 to allow for the transfer of operational power from the SAB to a permanent board.”

And “The transfer from the SAB to an elected board should be done in such a way as to maintain stability and continuity and to minimize disruption. We recommend that an elected board be gradually phased in over a period of several years. The Legislature should amend RSMo 162.601 to accomplish that goal”.
Please note that the report talks about transferring power “from the SAB to a permanent board” and “an elected board” being phased in.  They are not recommending the return of governance to the sitting elected board of education but to an alternative board.

As currently worded, RSMo162.1100.12 reads,
“The transitional school district in any city not within a county shall be dissolved on July 1, 2008, unless the state board determines, prior to that date, that it is necessary for the transitional district to continue to accomplish the purposes for which it was created. The state board of education may cause the termination of the transitional school district at any time upon a determination that the transitional district has accomplished the purposes for which it was established and is no longer needed.…The state board of education shall provide notice to the governor and general assembly of the termination … of the transitional school district and the termination … shall become effective thirty days following such determination.”

The transitional district is the temporary school district superimposed on the SLPS when DESE removed accreditation in June 2007 and which is governed by the Special Administrative Board, the SAB.  The State Board has extended the transitional district three times. RSMo162.1100.12 clearly allows the State Board to decide at any time that the SAB has completed its purpose and to return governance of the SLPS to the EB.  The transfer would occur 30 days after their decision.  That sounds like a transition process.

Pretending that the State Board Of Education should not make that decision because there needs to be a transition process to prevent destabilizing the district, that there is genuine reason to be concerned about the need, “to maintain stability and continuity and to minimize disruption” is merely a smoke screen for their obeisance to the will of the business community as most likely directed by the governor’s office.  The commissioner and the state board members all serve at the pleasure of the governor after all.

RSMo 162.601 was approved as part of SB 781, legislation which was passed in 1998 to facilitate the settlement of the Caldwell Liddell federal lawsuit intended to desegregate the SLPS. RSMo 162.601 addresses two issues.  The first was a provision of SB781 that altered the composition of the city board of education from twelve members to seven members.  It detailed the way that elections would go for several years to reduce the number of board members.  Previously every two years, four board members were elected to staggered six year terms.  As a result of SB 781, terms were shortened to four years and members are now elected either two or three at a time.

But, the last two paragraphs of RSMo 162.601 lay out an alternative method for choosing board members. It reads,

”7. Members of the board of directors shall be elected to represent seven subdistricts.  The subdistricts shall be established by the state board of education to be compact, contiguous and as nearly equal in population as practicable.  The subdistricts shall be revised by the state board of education after each decennial census and at any other time the state board determines that the district's demographics have changed sufficiently to warrant redistricting.
8. A member shall reside in and be elected in the subdistrict which the member is elected to represent.  Subdistrict 1 shall be comprised of wards 1, 2, 22 and 27. Subdistrict 2 shall be comprised of wards 3, 4, 5 and 21.  Subdistrict 3 shall be comprised of wards 18, 19, 20 and 26.  Subdistrict 4 shall be comprised of wards 6, 7, 17 and 28.  Subdistrict 5 shall be comprised of wards 9, 10, 11 and 12.  Subdistrict 6 shall be comprised of wards 13, 14, 16 and 25. Subdistrict 7 shall be comprised of wards 8, 15, 23 and 24.”

These two paragraphs of the statute were never implemented.  They were successfully challenged by a lawsuit and never went into effect.  By suggesting that RSMo 162.601 be amended, the Danforth Freeman SAC 2010 Report does not specifically address the issue of electing board members by sub-districts.  But that would be an alternative form of governance and one that would limit citizens’ representation on the board.  Electing board members at large as is current practice makes all seven board members accountable to the entire city electorate.  Election by sub-district limits representation of the citizenry to the one board member for whom they are allowed to vote, Board members would have fewer constituents and be less inclined to be concerned about the district as a whole. But it would be easier for the people who really run this town to once again control who is elected to the board. It would be easy for the aldermen and committee people to choose candidates and raise large campaign funds to elect them.  It would be harder for SLPS parents to get elected to the board.

Whether sub-districts or some other method of alternative governance will be the recommendation of the people who really run this town is anyone’s guess at this point. What is apparent is that the State Board of Education has decided to ignore its ability to resolve the ten year colonization of the SLPS by the state.

They are using the notion of the need for a transition as an excuse for unnecessarily prolonging the SAB’s rule.  When the SAB was appointed on June 15, 2007 there was no transition and there was a jolt.  Rick Sullivan had no prior knowledge or experience with public schools.  The original three SAB members did not even take their MSBA training until February, 2008 meaning that for the first 8 months of their tenure, they were not even certified to govern a district. The only SAB member who was at all qualified was Richard Gaines who had served one term on the EB in the 1980s. 

All of the current elected board members have been MSBA trained and certified.  They are properly prepared to govern a school district.  Pretending there would be a jolt, discontinuity, disruption or destabilization of the district if they were returned to governance is utter nonsense.

This is what government by appointed board amounts to.  The appointed State Board of Education is no more accountable to us mere citizens than the SAB is.  Whether we will find the recommendations of the people who really run this town acceptable remains to be seen.  But for some unspeakable reason, they refuse to allow the return to governance of the currently constituted elected Board of Education.  All concerned citizens can do at this point is bait their breath and wait unless of course they want to badger their elected representatives about this matter, write letters to the editors of local publications, draw attention on social media, raise questions during the public comments section of SAB meetings, and so on.


Update: David Jackson

For those of you who have been wondering what former Board of Education Member David Jackson has been up to, there is plenty to report.  Jackson, who served two terms on the Board from 2007 to 2015, lost his re-election bid for a third term in 2015 and lost another election in April, 2017 to regain a seat on the Board.

Jackson recently established two discussion forums; one for former board members and one for community groups for the purpose of putting before the State Board of Education and the Missouri Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, the St. Louis community's commitment towards an elected board. Despite having lost two elections, Jackson continues to try to present himself as representing the will of the community.

Jackson believes that the SAB is working to replace the EB with a permanent hybrid board, a board consisting of both elected and appointed members. It is his intention that his forums will conclude that the Danforth Freeman 2010 Report’s conclusion that an elected board would be more acceptable to the community is correct.

Jackson, however, has put forth the supposition that the EB should be reconfigured. He would add a student and a representative from the mayor’s office to the EB.  They would be non-voting members. But he thinks that there should be no more than seven board members so he is suggesting that there only be five elected board members who will continue to be elected at large.

Jackson is also promoting the consolidation of school districts.  He suggests combining the Riverview Gardens, Normandy, and Jennings school districts with SLPS. He also plans to recommend that there only be three school districts in the St. Louis region; the expanded SLPS, one district for the rest of the county and the special school district which serves special education students in the county.

Jackson’s ideas are stunning.

Since losing a seat on the board of education in 2015, he has been crusading to get re-elected.  But he has been doing so by attacking the district’s regaining full accreditation. That is not an approach that is likely to inspire people to vote for him. And Jackson is angry.  He resents board members who outpolled him in the two elections he lost. So it is not surprising that he would want to make it more difficult for people to win a seat on the board of education by eliminating two of the elected positions.

As far as consolidating Riverview, Jennings and Normandy into the SLPS goes, it boggles the mind to think that putting the only three districts under state control into one district would enable them to be governed by an elected board in the foreseeable future.  And why would Jennings, which is doing somewhat better in language arts MAP scores want to affiliate with districts whose test scores are lower and why would they want to lose governance by their elected board?  Moreover, it was the consolidation of the state run Wellston Public schools into Normandy which was the final blow that brought down Normandy’s achievement ratings to the point of justifying their state takeover.  If you were going to wed these districts to others, why not join them with stronger contiguous districts rather than weaker ones? 

The idea of consolidating all of the county districts into one concur with the goals of the people who really run things in this town who have been campaigning in recent years to consolidate county municipalities so as to have less government and lower taxes.  Jackson has always tended to try to ingratiate himself to the people who really run things.  He aspires to be one of them. He has not had much success.

Hopefully the people Jackson invites to join his forums will not agree with his ideas and he will abandon his plan to promote them to the State Board of Education and the Legislature.  But I wouldn’t put much stock in the possibility   Jackson believes in himself.
Town Halls With Mayor Krewson

Mayor Lyda Krewson is hosting a series of Town Hall meetings to offer you and other residents the opportunity to engage in conversation with her and other representatives from City Departments. The format of the Town Halls will include a brief introduction from Mayor Krewson and city representatives, with a majority of the event reserved for questions and commentary about the issues facing St. Louis.  It’s an opportunity to ask the mayor to support returning governance of the SLPS to our elected Board of Education and to tell her not to support an alternative form of governance for the SLPS.

The first Town Hall meeting is this Tuesday, September 5 from 6:00pm to 8:00pm at O'Fallon Park YMCA (4343 Florissant Avenue) and I encourage you to attend this meeting. If you are unable to attend the first meeting, please try to make it to one of the other meetings at various locations around the city. A list of the remaining locations and times is below.

Schlafly Branch Library - Thursday, September 7 
6:00PM - 8:00PM
225 N Euclid Avenue

Vashon High School - Tuesday, September 19
6:00PM - 8:00PM
3035 Cass Avenue

Carpenter Branch Library - Thursday, September 21 
6:00PM - 8:00PM
3309 S Grand Boulevard

Carondelet Park Rec Center - Saturday, September 23 
12:00PM - 2:00PM
930 Holly Hills Avenue

If you require any reasonable modifications or auxiliary aids and services for effective communication because of a disability, please call 314-622-3686 48 hours in advance

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

September 12, 2017, Tuesday, Board of Education regular monthly meeting, 6:30 p.m., Wilkinson Early Childhood Center ,1921 Prather Ave, St. Louis 63139

September 28, 2017, Thursday, Special Administrative Board meeting, 6:00 p.m., 801 N. 11th Street, room 108
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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

SLPS Elected Board Results, via St Louis Schools Watch

And here they are...and note on Richard Gaines leaving schoolboard, and upcoming board meetings (below)

St. Louis Schools Watch
By Susan Turk
School Board Election Results
April 4, 2017—St. Louis—








Write-in Votes

So the winners are Susan Jones, Dorothy Rohde-Collins and Natalie Vowell.
Richard Gaines Leaving SAB
At the March 16, 2017 SAB meeting, Richard Gaines made several cryptic remarks.
As he was walking in he told this reporter that I wouldn’t have him to jump up and down on much longer. Then, he remarked that he was joking. (NB I have never physically jumped up and down on Mr. Gaines.)  Then during the course of the meeting he remarked several times about how things looked from the view of walking out the door.
Rick Sullivan responded at one point vaguely implying that he was going to miss Mr. Gaines.
No official announcement has been made to the effect that Mr. Gaines is leaving the board. But he is. President of the Board of Aldermen Louis Reed gets to appoint his replacement.
Questions for the Watch? Letters to the Editor? Stories to contribute? News tips? Send them to SLS_Watch@yahoo.com
Please feel free to forward the SLS Watch to anyone you think will benefit from reading the publication.

April 11, 2017, Tuesday, Board of Education regular monthly meeting, 7 p.m., Columbia Elementary School,  3120 St. Louis Avenue, 63106

April 13, 2017, Thursday, SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108

Monday, April 3, 2017

SLPS Elected Board Elections April 4 -- St Louis School Watch Evaluation of Candidates

SLPS Candidate Survey responses

1. James Reece

2. Dorothy Rohde Collins
3. Susan Jones
4. David Jackson

Other candidates did not respond.

Link to Susan Turk's evaluation of the elections (and recommendations).  

SLPS Schoolboard Elections, APRIL 4: Analysis and evaluation of candidates by Susan Turk...

St. Louis Schools Watch

The April 4 School Board Election

March 28, 2017—St. Louis—
Well, it’s time to assess the candidates.  In the order that they will appear on the ballot they are Wiiliam (Bill) Monroe, Jr., Natalie Vowel, David Jackson, Jr., Dorothy Rodhe-Collins, Brian Wallner, James Reece, and Susan Jones.

Regular readers of the Watch are already familiar with most f them. The exception is Brian Wallner.  He did not fill out a candidate survey and he has not attended most the ward meetings or candidate forums.  Outside of two brief phone conversations, I have not been able to learn much about him.  He apparently works two jobs which has prevented him from doing much campaigning. So, I have not been able to form an opinion about him other than that he is an idealistic young man who values public education.

Incumbent Board Member Bill Monroe is seeking re-election to a second term.  He did not return a candidate survey. Mr. Monroe has been a fixture at school board meetings for close to 20 years. He is the founder of the now closed Thurgood Marshall Academy, one of the first charter schools opened in St. Louis and the first to be closed by the state.  After Thurgood Marshall closed, Mr. Monroe attempted to open a second charter school named after Harriet Tubman but he could not find a sponsor. Rumors circulated that DESE was warning people not to work with him. These rumors incensed Monroe enough to speak about them at an SAB meeting demanding to be told who at DESE was responsible.  He never found out.

He is currently trying to open a private vocational high school for homeless students.  Over the years both before and after being elected to the board of education he has made many appearances before the SAB.  During their early years, he tried to be useful to the SAB, volunteering to chair break-out sessions at their community forums and serving on the committee to promote a bond issue and then the committee that was supposed to provide confidence that there was public oversight of the expenditures from the bond issue but which only met twice. In recent years during his appearances before the SAB, he regularly insults Rick Sullivan and Supt. Kelvin Adams, demanding to be told Sullivan’s salary ($0) and insinuating that Sullivan rather than Dr. Adams runs the district. He repeatedly demands that the SAB meet with the elected board to either to include the EB in decisions or to work on transition. His efforts have not been successful.

The Watch has two purposes.  The first is to report facts.  The second is to provide analysis. The previous paragraph amounts to fact. Here comes some analysis.

Watching Mr. Monroe’s behavior over the years, what one sees is a bullying and obstinate personality.  His public persona is one of defiance of authority.  But he is a lone warrior. If he came to meetings with phalanxes of followers backing him up, he might achieve something. But he is one of those “he and he alone” characters. So his confrontational strategy has not been successful. If relentless perseverance were valued in and of itself, he would be an award winner. But he has nothing to show for his effort.

One would not be remiss for wondering whether he ran for a seat on the board of education to ensure that it never returned to power.  Last year he practically nailed it.  He was unilaterally responsible for ending the transition discussions initiated by the state board of education by walking into a closed door meeting last August.  That the state board terminated transition discussions, pending the outcome of this election, is on Mr. Monroe’s head.  It is fair to assume that if Mr. Monroe is re-elected, there will be no further transition discussion until such time as he is no longer serving on the board of education.
Monroe is an intelligent man who appears to be concerned about the welfare of our students.  But he is a woefully misguided man who has alienated most of his fellow board members.  He has given them good reasons not to choose him to represent them at the transition talks.

David Jackson is the third candidate who did not complete a candidate questionnaire.  His reason for declining was published in the previous issue. He accused me of being biased and opinionated.  After 23 years of education activism in St. Louis, I admit to having formed opinions based on my observations.  Despite my opinions, I give the candidates a forum for expressing themselves directly to readers such as yourselves whereby you can form your own opinions. Having forfeited that opportunity, he leaves you subject to what I report and analyze.

Having known Jackson for ten years, eight of which he served on the board, I can say that he is a charming, amiable man who runs an orderly meeting.  But, he called for the board to cease meeting three months after he was elected because of the SAB’s authorization. The date that the SAB would take over was well known during his election campaign so why did he run if he was going to call for the cessation of the board so soon after his election?  Was it because fellow board members did not give in to his demand to immediately elect him president?

Once he became president, he clearly enjoyed the prestige and frequently, commendably traveled to Jefferson City at his own expense to lobby the legislature about returning power to the elected board.  But he did not understand the need to organize the community to apply political pressure on politicians.  Jackson exhibited excessive confidence in his own abilities to sway political opinion.  Each time the SAB’s term was up for renewal he was certain it would not be extended because he personally had lobbied those in power to end it.  

Although Jackson has never been successful in influencing the return of power to the elected board, he has never conceded that he alone cannot be effective. His sole ambition appears to be to hold the title of president of the board of education. To achieve that single minded goal he supported his friend Bill Monroe’s candidacy for the board and does so again this year.  He had a hard time accepting his election loss in 2015 went off the reservation so to speak harassing Board Member Susan Jones after she succeeded him as president trying to convince her that she needed his constant advice and could not fulfill the responsibilities of the presidency without his oversight.  She finally blocked his repeated calls to her cell phone.

At Wednesday night’s League of Women Voters Candidate Forum, Jackson exaggerated his influence with the SAB and Dr. Adams, took credit for things the district accomplished that the elected board had no power over and dismissed the role fellow board members played in things they did, as if he alone was responsible for their accomplishments.  The board needs collaborators, not lone wolves.

Of the four who returned candidates surveys, Natalie Vowell is running her second race for a seat on the board of education. She certainly runs a hard campaign but one has to wonder why she is running.  She is the only candidate, based on her answer to the candidate survey, who doesn’t care if the board is returned to power.

She is a housing activist and is deeply concerned about the welfare of low income home owners.  Consequently she advocates for a property tax cut for low income senior citizens and veterans.  In her original campaign flyer she supported lowering property taxes for all seniors and veterans.  After it was pointed out to her that this would include elderly homeowners such as Rex Singuefield, who loves tax cuts, but can easily afford to pay the whole bill, she revised her literature to refer only to low income owners.  But that would still deprive the SLPS of millions of dollars in revenue.  She is pitting the needs of low income home owners against the needs of low income children.  More than 70% of SLPS revenue comes from local property taxes. Vowel has said nothing about replacing that revenue or what she deems expendable from the budget were the board to approve her idea.  It is dubious that they would.  But cutting property taxes is a ploy that would appeal to a large segment of the electorate.

On her website she has criticized desegregation for being the reason there are so many derelict properties and closed schools in the city, implying that desegregation was the only reason the city lost substantial population.   Despite her expertise in housing issues, she ignores the role the real estate industry played in the suburbanization of our country.  Almost every major city lost population after World War II due to the construction of millions of homes in formerly rural areas, homes with broad front lawns and large back yards that drew families out of our cities.  But blaming desegregation is another attractive ploy for a considerable segment of the electorate.

Vowell took a combative stance against the Watch candidate survey question about whether the candidate was an SLPS parent.  She implied that the question discriminated against the LGBT community or people unable to have children. Most LGBT people are capable of and many do have children.  There are many LGBT parents, students and staff in the SLPS. The question was part of a series of questions designed to suss out whether the candidate had any experiential knowledge of the SLPS, not just as a parent, but as a student, employee, or board member or relative thereof. Vowell has none of the above and is defensive about it.  And we will freely admit being biased in favor of candidates who know the SLPS from the inside.

Vowel also expressed a preference for neighborhood schools and an antipathy towards bussing.  Vowell does not appreciate the importance of magnet schools to the district.  Parents choose the put their children on busses to attend magnet schools.  Without them SLPS would be a much smaller district.

The St. Louis Schools Watch has always preferred that the SLPS be governed by a democratically elected school board. To that end, the Watch has sought to endorse school board candidates who would stand out as community exemplars deserving our trust in their ability to oversee our children’s education.  Whenever possible, The Watch has supported SLPS parents running for the board of education.  Susan Jones, Dorothy Rohde-Collins and James Reece either are already or by this summer will be SLPS parents.

James Reece is a parent activist who took it upon himself to address the SAB and Dr. Adams about conditions at Vashon H.S.  Observing that his college bound son was coming home without homework, he toured the school. Dismayed by what he learned walking around the building, students cutting classes with impunity, teachers not attempting to teach, he undertook to develop a relationship with the principal and then took it upon himself to address the administration and insist that not just Vashon but all of the comprehensive high schools be transformed into schools that prepare our students for their futures.  A former journalist, he has a background in psychology.  He is a passionate, insightful and articulate spokesman.  The SLPS needs more parents like him.  He will be an asset to the board of education.

Rohde-Collins’ six years of experience teaching in one of our high schools will make her an asset to the board.  Her ability to evaluate professional development programs will provide insight to fellow board members. As the mother of a special needs child, she will serve as the eyes and ears for other parents of special needs children.  That should keep the special education staff on their toes, something frankly needed.  As warm hearted as she is, she will be a conduit for parents to resolve issues in their schools.

Susan Jones has provided steady leadership for the board for the past two years.  Young as she is, she has accomplished a lot in the 12 years since she graduated from Gateway H.S.; a BA in political science from UMSL, two masters degrees, a daughter, work experience as an intervention specialist in the Ritenour School District, managing diversity business growth for a local company and somehow finding the time and energy to serve on the board of education for the past four years. She has garnered the respect of district administrators and most of her fellow board members.  She has maintained a calm and steady demeanor through some rather contentious situations. To be frank, there are a couple of board members who are not easy to work with. Ms. Jones steadily steers board meetings around whatever disruptions they attempt. She has remarkable abilities to keep the board on task. She deserves to be re-elected.

Reece, Rohde-Collins and Jones have all been endorsed by AFT Local 420, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the St. Louis Green Party, and Percy Green’s New Community Action organization, a stunning amount of consensus from different quarters. They are now being endorsed as well by the St. Louis Schools Watch.  Remember to vote on Tuesday.

Questions for the Watch? Letters to the Editor? Stories to contribute? News tips? Send them to SLS_Watch@yahoo.com
Please feel free to forward the SLS Watch to anyone you think will benefit from reading the publication.

April 4, 2017, School Board Election, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

April 11, 2017, Tuesday, Board of Education regular monthly meeting, 7 p.m., Columbia Elementary School,  3120 St. Louis Avenue, 63106

April 13, 2017, Thursday, SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108

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Monday, March 27, 2017

SLPS Election Update: Candidate Surveys, David Jackson

David Jackson

Mr. Jackson declined to answer the questionnaire.  He sent the following message to the Watch via email.


Regretfully, I am choosing not to participate in your Candidate's Questionnaire.  Reason for my decision, is that you and The Watch have demonstrated by your past articles, particularly in attempts to damage me and my commitment to education, that you are bias and opinionated.  Because of your writings, I cannot trust you or the The Watch to present anything objectively and true to the fact.  The Watch under Peter Downs was true journalism, by being fair and objective, currently you have failed at that!

Thanks, but no thanks!

Candidates Bill Monroe and Brian Wallner have not returned their questionnaires or communicated a reason for not doing so.

Questions for the Watch? Letters to the Editor? Stories to contribute? News tips? Send them to SLS_Watch@yahoo.com

SLPS Election Update: Candidate Surveys #3: Natalie Vowell (via Susan Turk)

I am posting these bulletins from Susan Turk, who does the service of publishing on SLPS through St Louis Schools Watch.  You can find information on the other candidates here (in the order I received them):

1. James Reece

2. Dorothy Rohde Collins
3. Susan Jones
4. David Jackson
Other candidates did not respond.

Link to Susan Turk's evaluation of the elections:



St. Louis Schools Watch
By Susan Turk
March 25, 2017—St. Louis--

April 2017 School Board Candidates Questionnaire

Natalie Vowell

Please supply a brief autobiography.

I am a product of one of the top 10 public schools in the United States. I was hired by the University of Arkansas as the youngest and first female computer lab manager for the University's Enhanced Learning Center, which assisted struggling students with learning computer technology and receiving tutoring. I moved from Fayetteville, AR to St. Louis in 2010. In 2011, I began working for WITS, a nonprofit which repurposes unwanted electronics into free or low-cost computers for families and schools, instead of just dumping them into landfills. Within one year, I became development director, and then board member. In 2013, I left WITS to found Project Raise The Roof, an all-volunteer organization whose purpose is to prevent the seizure of owner-occupied homes at the Sheriff’s tax auctions. I’ve assisted over 60 people keeping their homes on the tax rolls and funding our schools, when otherwise all of those homes would have become more vacant LRA-owned vacant buildings. For the past 3 years, I’ve joined 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis and HOT 104.1 on the high school S.W.A.G. [Success, Wellness, Academic Achievement, and Goal-Setting] Tour. I've been to Vashon, Sumner Roosevelt, CVPA, Carnahan, and ICA to registered over 200 SLPS seniors to vote, and spoken to hundreds more students about how to become engaged in the political process before they’re old enough to cast a ballot. In 2016 I moved with my husband to the 22nd Ward to be more logistically central to our full time work in North City. In 2016, I served as a CD1 delegate to the 2016 DNC, and am a member of the recently-formed Missouri Democratic Party Progressive Caucus. I am fortunate to be in a position which allows me to act as a 100% full-time volunteer - and I get measurable positive results with any project I tackle.

The SLPS is currently governed by an appointed board.  The elected board has limited responsibilities. While possible, it is not guaranteed the elected board will return to power during the term for which you are running.  Why, then, are you running?  If you believe the elected board will return to power, please give reasons.

While I certainly hope the elected board is placed back in control of our schools so that the voters can hold the decision-makers accountable, whether or not the elected board returns to power is irrelevant to my candidacy.  I don’t want power; I want to continue the work I’m already doing, and I believe it’s important for someone with the passion, time, and energy for all of the above to serve on our elected board.  “Limited Responsibilities” does not mean limited activism.  I vow to do much more than just the bare minimum of attending regular meetings.

What is your understanding of the role of a board member?
With its current restricted autonomy, I compare the elected Board of Education to the advisory board of directors for a nonprofit or charitable organization.  Elected Board of Education should be comprised of people one who bring valuable knowledge, experience, guidance, and volunteer time to the table without having a direct vote in enacting policy.

What do you want to accomplish as a board member? As a board member, I will play a role in ending the school-to-prison pipeline and cyclical poverty.  I will to increase enrollment and make our schools more attractive to parents who may be considering other districts.  I will empower our teachers to implement more varied approaches to education for students who may lack structure at home and stimulation in day-to-day school tasks.  And I will encourage our entire elected board to become involved in more direct, proactive outreach - instead of just waiting for parents to come to us.  I bring the same passion, tireless energy, and innovation I have brought to any other board on which I have served, and any other community project I have led.

Are you the parent of children who currently attend or graduated from the SLPS?

I believe the question of whether or not a candidate has a child in SLPS is dismissive to LGBT candidates who may not have children, people who choose not to procreate, and persons who are biologically incapable of reproduction.  It has no bearing on whether someone cares about children, education issues, and municipal policies - or whether a person is qualified to serve in a leadership position.

Did you attend and/or graduate from the SLPS? I did not attend SLPS; I attended public schools from kindergarten through high school in Fayetteville, AR - consistently rated one of the top ten places in the United States to raise a family. http://wordpress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=febf37d8c53a262d3cca40d04&id=5f7f05eff9&e=3fe73d6d79

I was fortunate to have the privilege of being born in Northwest Arkansas and proud to have received an excellent education from Fayetteville Public Schools, including college prep and Advanced Placement classes which earned college credit.  I would like to bring some of the benefits of the neighborhood schools I grew up attending to St. Louis City.
I can't change where I was born. But I can improve the city I chose as my home. The tired old “we’ve always done it this way” seems to be the governing mentality, and it’s time for a new perspective.

Have you ever worked for the SLPS or are you related to a current or former employee?

While I have family members who teach in public schools across the country, none of my relatives have ever worked for SLPS, as I don’t have any family who grew up here, or are currently living in town.

Are you now or have you in the past served as a board member? 
I have served on the board of directors for charitable organizations, but have not yet had the opportunity to serve on the St. Louis City Board of Education.

If you are not an SLPS parent, graduate, former employee or relation of one, or board member, do you have any other connection with the SLPS?

My connection to SLPS is direct interaction with students and their families. I’ve been on the front lines of education and poverty issues; I have been working directly with people, not just policy.

What are your thoughts about the SAB which governs the district?

(Not answered. The Editor)

What is your understanding of the effect of charter schools on the SLPS?  Should more charter schools open in the city?

(Not answered. The Editor)

Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment?

The existing billboards and advertisements are a waste of funds.  Whether rightly or wrongly, SLPS already has a reputation in the minds of St. Louis Citizens.  In order to improve confidence in our schools, we need real outreach.  Too many of my own city-dwelling friends have moved to the County once their children reach school age.  Parents should have a direct line of contact with board members, and it should be the duty of each board member to reach out to a certain number City parents per year to encourage enrollment in SLPS. Campaigning for a position on the City School Board every four years should not be the only time we get out into the community.  We need to inspire trust in our school system through transparency, accessibility, accountability, and proactive contact with parents. There are many ways we can achieve this - and they cost us nothing but time and dedication.

The Missouri legislature is considering bills this year that would expand school choice using vouchers, education savings accounts or tuition tax credits making it possible for students to attend private schools using public money or depriving the state of general revenue so they could use their own money for private tuition without being taxed on those funds, and expanding options for students in certain situations to attend schools outside of their school district. The Trump administration promotes school choice and may re-allocate Title I funding away from providing low income children with extra resources to master reading and math toward expanding school choice options. School board members will be faced with an uphill battle in a struggle to attract and retain students to their school district. How will you respond to these challenging developments?

We have a duty as elected board members to advocate for the right policies in Jefferson City.  For the past 3 years, I have driven citizens to the State Capitol to meet their legislators and have their voices heard.  I will continue to do so as a member of the elected board.

What are your thoughts regarding the magnet schools?
(Not answered. The editor)

What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools?

Neighborhood schools are essential to our district.  When kids get up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the bus to a school across town and don't get home until 6pm or later...  When do they eat?  How much sleep do they get?  When do they get to spend time with their parents?  When do they do their homework?  How can they be expected to achieve the learning necessary to perform well on standardized tests?  Schools need to be near where people live - especially here on the northside.  As long as we keep taking away occupied homes from our citizens, and boarding up their houses, we will keep losing population and boarding up our schools.

What ideas do you have to help students learn?

With poorer districts competing for state funding based on average daily headcount, it becomes virtually impossible to achieve the smaller class sizes which give more personalized attention some students require.  I believe the best schools have strong leadership and strong educators.  A teacher with grit and personality, who tries multiple techniques to meet the student where they are, is more effective than any particular curriculum or flavor-of-the-month technology (which winds up costing the district an exorbitant amount of money for lackluster results).  Increasing the budget and the freedom for educators to experiment with serving alternative learning styles by implementing creative, non-traditional education techniques as the teacher sees fit for his or her class could help enrich the educational experience public school students receive.  The adult in the room teaching 25 kids all day is the one who knows best what they need—not the guy across town, or across the state, analyzing spreadsheets and performance charts.  More local control by the administrators and teachers is needed; these individuals are on the field, not the bench.  They know their school and their students better than any district or state bureaucrat, and these stand-out educators deserve attractive salaries to encourage them to stay in our district.

What do you think about the MAP tests and standardized tests in general?

Each state has a set of curricular standards that dictates which skills a student in a particular grade should have mastered by the time that student finishes that particular grade.  States have also teamed with psychometricians whose job was to take these state standards and develop assessments to effectively measure mastery of the concepts outlined by these standards at each grade level.  That said, standardized tests, assuming they achieve the above, are one of the best measures we have for determining whether students have mastered their grade-level concepts.  Granted they are not the be-all end-all measurement of achievement, but if the tests are appropriately aligned with the standards, then we could rest easy in using the data as a metric for student achievement.

However, one of the largest problems with many state assessments is that they are only given once a year: near the end of the school year. This is problematic because we have no baseline measure of where the student was performing when they started the school year.  In some cases we use the previous end of the school year test results as a proxy for their grade-level achievement, but this is dangerous as many students' families move and change schools.  Additionally, some students endure what is termed summer learning loss during the three-month vacation. That said, if a 7th grade student barely performed at grade-level on ELA and math tests and, over the summer forgot much of what was learned, they may only be able to perform at a 5th grade level when they start their 8th grade year.  However, if they perform at a 7th grade level by the end of their 8th grade year, the teacher may be evaluated negatively because the student is not performing at grade level, when actually, this teacher helped this student learn two grade levels of material in one year.

One solution is to design an assessment that follows a pre/post test model.  For example, if schools administered one form of the MAP within the first two weeks of school, teachers would have a baseline of performance for every student.  Additionally, teachers could look at each student’s test results from the beginning of the year to determine strengths and weaknesses.  Then, throughout the school year, teachers could deliver tailored instruction to each individual student based on these pre-test scores.  At the close of the school year, schools could administer the “post-test” form of the MAP.  This would allow administrators, teachers, parents, and students to measure how much the student grew academically over the course of the academic year.  It would eliminate any data-skewing issues from transience or summer learning loss concerning what impact an individual teacher had on a student’s learning.  It would be a boon for administrators looking to reward teachers for high growth among their students as the growth could be largely attributed to the particular teacher for a given subject in a given year.

However, more standardized testing is expensive, time-consuming, and reduces real in-class learning time.  Additionally, some students perform better in a classroom setting than they do on standardized tests.  Allowing educators to make their own beginning-of-year assessments would be far preferable to using last year's MAP results or burdening students with more stress or boredom for a beginning-of-year standardized test.  While starting the year off with a form of the MAP could give more accurate numbers by which to measure a student's growth, it very likely would sap the class's enthusiasm for the new school year.  We need to place more emphasis on an educator's ability to analyze their own students' learning styles, trust our educators to report students' performance and growth needs fairly and honestly (even when it conflicts with the previous year's MAP results), and empower our educators to employ the teaching techniques they see fit to help every student succeed.

In the past the elected board has been criticized as dysfunctional.  If a majority of fellow board members make a decision with which you disagree can you accept the outcome or would you publicly disagree with their decision?

Democracy requires accepting decisions of the majority of voters on any board and working together to meet the end goal of said decisions. Each member's opinions should be voiced and their cases made before a vote or decision is made, not after.

Approximately 70% of SLPS high school graduates who enroll in college must take remedial courses.  What policies would you promote to lower this statistic?

Junior College Board Member positions are also up for election this year.  Perhaps this is a good time to converse with them.  I believe solid communication, strong partnership, and close collaboration with these board members could bring some great data to shape the K-12 curriculum to include college preparation. Some years ago, my hometown Fayetteville, Arkansas's FHS East Campus began offering AP courses through a partnership with the University of Arkansas.  College curriculum courses are taught for college credit (based upon passing final test) at the high school itself or, when necessary, with transportation provided to the University.  This gave under-challenged students an opportunity to advance their college coursework while still in high school.  More often than not, “underperformance” is due to lack of engagement rather than lack of intelligence or motivation.  Customizing classes for each student based on not just their abilities, but their interests, can keep students from feeling punished or stigmatized for their deficiency in one subject area as they discover their proficiency in another.  By emphasizing strengths over weaknesses, this approach would inspire students to define their passions and perhaps even become more motivated to succeed in their problem areas.  We need to help children find their passions instead of rigidly boxing them into the most popular career path; after all, passion is a huge motivating factor when choosing a major. This could also save our students money at the university level, as fewer of their resources be allocated to taking remedial courses.  I would like to see a strong line of communication between secondary, community college, and university officials to help better develop pathways to a university that is the most beneficial to the student - less costly to them, both monetarily and mentally.

Is it important that SLPS parents be represented on the school board?

Absolutely! Parent representation is essential - especially for parents who are unable to attend school board meetings due to chronic illnesses, disabilities, or jobs with demanding hours.  In the past, some elected board members have shifted the blame to the parents for "not bothering to show up for school board meetings". Many of the parents in my northside neighborhood work hourly minimum wage jobs and are navigating the margin between destitution and oppression.  As elected officials, it’s time for us to step up, meet people where they are, and reach out to them instead of expecting them to come to us. They love and care about their kids just as much as more "involved" parents who hold regular 9-5 careers and paid leave - and it's time we start making sure all of our parents' concerns are not only brought to light, but acted upon. We must stop equating poverty with apathy!