Monday, April 3, 2017

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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