Airick West will remain KC school board president

The Kansas City school board, yearning for steady leadership, held its course Wednesday.

Airick Leonard West learned at noon he had won his write-in race, and then was elected unanimously by board members later in the evening to carry on as board president.

The board also swore in three new members, maintaining a strong majority in support of Superintendent Steve Green and the blueprint for regaining accreditation.

Curtis Rogers and Marisol Montero won the other write-in races. They joined Jon Hile as new board members.

“Now more than ever,” West said after the meeting, “the community, board members, teachers and families recognize that the big-picture issues to restore achievement are more important than the small issues that divide us.”

Said retiring board member Ray Wilson: “What this district needs, more than anything, is stability.”

The new board has more to deal with beyond student achievement.

It’s also hoping that more than two years of remaking board policies to get out of micromanaging will win the favor of politicians and state officials eyeing a takeover of the district.

“We are making progress,” said Arthur Benson, whose board tenure ended Wednesday.

He leaves, along with Duane Kelly and Wilson — all three of whom had decades of experience in different roles in the school district.

But the progress, at least in public perception, came undone when former Superintendent John Covington unexpectedly resigned last August.

The district, provisionally accredited at the time, had seen its test scores dip after several years of slow growth, but Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and a state team working with the district had approved and supported Covington’s transformation plan.

Benson believes Nicastro would have supported another year of provisional accreditation had Covington stayed.

“They liked Covington,” he said. “They liked what we were doing.”

But at Nicastro’s urging, the state board dropped the district to unaccredited Jan. 1, intensifying campaigns in Jefferson City to replace the board or even dissolve the district.

Nicastro has said she can’t speculate what would have happened if Covington had stayed.

Except for the first few days after Covington’s bombshell, the school board worked with little visible contention, usually with a strong consensus and in support of the administration.

The commissioner is not saying whether she thinks the school board and its efforts to stabilize the district under Green can help stave off state intervention.

Nor did she want to comment on the board’s election and its slate of candidates — which she said at the beginning of the filing period in December needed to be a strong slate supported by an engaged community.

In the end, the race that began with only two filed candidates drew at least a dozen write-in candidates, with contested races for all four seats up for election.

Voters, in a low turnout, chose the current board president in West, the chief operations officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Hile, an activist parent and civic volunteer in Montero, and a former principal and teacher in Rogers.

The write-in results, released Wednesday:

•  At-large: West won a tight battle with the Rev. Sam Mann. West tallied 1,570 votes to Mann’s 1,396, winning by a margin of 39 percent to 34 percent.

Three other candidates — Lyne’t Smith, H. Lon Swearingen and Jerry Sargent — each received 5 percent or less.

•  3rd Subdistrict: Montero received 37 percent of the vote with 122 votes, edging Kelly at 33 percent with 107 votes. Adam Schieber received 12 percent.

•  5th Subdistrict: Rogers won easily with 49 percent of the votes over Nia Webster, Candace Koba and Demonte Rochester. Webster was second with 24 percent, and Koba had 13 percent.

Rogers received 437 votes to Webster’s 214.

•  Hile’s win over Benson in the 1st Subdistrict had already been determined since both had filed in time to appear on the ballot.

It’s a good slate of candidates with a good mix of experience, said Fred Hudgins, a parent who chairs the district’s advisory committee.

“It puts us on a new horizon,” he said. “It says we haven’t given up and that we’re going to work with (the state) to reaccreditation.”