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Under a cloud of possible state takeover, nine file for KC school board seats

Updated: 2014-01-22T04:55:08Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City school board as we know it may not survive the year, but it won’t go down without a fight.

Or at least a good election race.

At the filing deadline Tuesday, nine candidates had put in their names for five available seats to represent a school district that has a lot of issues on its plate — starting with a potential state takeover this fall.

“Most people think I’m crazy,” incumbent board member Gunnar Hand said. “There is a lot of frustration and people who want to blow it up. But I am of the personal belief that it is better to build rather than destroy.”

Hand will be unopposed in Subdistrict No. 2, but he probably will be the only candidate without a contest.

The four other seats up for election on the nine-member panel have at least two candidates each who submitted petitions for office. Three candidates still need to have the Kansas City election board validate the voter signatures on their petitions.

Unlike other area school districts, state law requires Kansas City candidates to gather hundreds of signatures to get on the ballot.

It’s a grueling process in the depths of winter, the candidates said, but it also gave them an early opportunity to gauge the mood of the community.

“A lot of people said there isn’t going to be a district, so why would I do this?” said at-large candidate Catina Taylor. “But we have to fight for the best interests of all children. You can’t just throw your hands up. Our children don’t deserve that.”

The candidates also met plenty of people who encouraged their desire to carry on with an elected board. There is plenty of doubt that state-engineered control of the unaccredited school district would lead to a swifter turnaround.

“Even when people are frustrated and disappointed in the district, the majority still want local leadership running the district,” said at-large candidate Pattie Mansur.

“The quality of the school board candidates should signal that there is a community of people interested in being involved and committed to addressing the shortcomings in the district.”

The elected school board could survive, either by the district improving enough in its next state report card to earn a provisional accreditation designation from the state school board or by keeping its role in whatever plan the state decides to apply to an unaccredited district.

Several proposals on what to do with the district are on the table, most notably a plan produced by state-hired consultant CEE-Trust that would dramatically restructure the district, including replacing the existing elected board with an appointed advisory board.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is gathering feedback on ideas and isn’t expecting to bring a plan to the state board for approval before March.

Even if the elected board remains, it is also beginning a several-year process under a new statute to convert from a nine-member board to a seven-member board.

The current candidates are running to win five-year terms, and the four remaining seats up for election in 2016 will be for three-year terms. All the terms will end in 2019, setting up new subdistrict boundaries that will put all seven seats up for election to four-year terms.

In addition to Hand’s uncontested race in Subdistrict No. 2, incumbent Joseph Jackson will face competition from Melissa Robinson in Subdistrict No. 4 if her petition is valid.

Incumbent Carl Evans in Subdistrict No. 6 will be opposed by Pamela Pearson if her petition is valid.

There are no incumbents in the race for two at-large seats: Crispin Rea is not running, and Kyleen Carroll moved from the district last year. The candidates will be Taylor, Mansur, Amy Hartsfield and — if her petition is valid — Janelle Bailey.

“Elections are a way a community sets forth its values,” Hartsfield said. “We want the same for schools, so our values are reflected in education.”

On April 8, the polls will be open for the school board election, at least one more time.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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