Elections

Newcomers dominate KC school board as sole incumbent in contested race loses his seat

These are the 10 candidates who sought sub-district Kansas City school board seats (from left, starting with top row). Sub-district 1: Rita Marie Cortes and Matthew Steven Oates. Sub-district 2: Nathaniel (Nate) Hogan. Sub-district 3: Manuel (Manny) R. Abarca IV. Sub-district 4: Clinton Adams, Marvia Jones, Ibrahim Ramsey and DeMonte Rochester. Sub-district 5: D. Jensen Adams and Mark Wasserstrom.
These are the 10 candidates who sought sub-district Kansas City school board seats (from left, starting with top row). Sub-district 1: Rita Marie Cortes and Matthew Steven Oates. Sub-district 2: Nathaniel (Nate) Hogan. Sub-district 3: Manuel (Manny) R. Abarca IV. Sub-district 4: Clinton Adams, Marvia Jones, Ibrahim Ramsey and DeMonte Rochester. Sub-district 5: D. Jensen Adams and Mark Wasserstrom. The Kansas City Star

The one Kansas City school board incumbent who had to battle to keep his seat lost it Tuesday night.

Matthew S. Oates, 33, who served on the school board since 2015, lost the Sub-district 1 seat to Rita Marie Cortes, 53, executive director of the Jewish Heritage Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

With all precincts reporting, Cortes captured 66 percent of the vote. Her win means that five of the district’s seven board members will be newcomers. This comes at a time when the provisionally accredited district is on the verge of earning full state accreditation as it struggles to maintain enrollment while new charter public schools plan to open in the city.

In a race pitting two newcomers against each other, attorney Mark Wasserstrom captured 60 percent of the vote to defeat D. Jensen Adams in Sub-district 5.

Four write-in candidates were vying for the board’s Sub-district 4 seat: DeMonte Rochester, Marvia Jones, Ibrahim Ramsey and Clinton Adams. Because they were not on the ballot, results will be tallied later.

The other school board candidates ran unopposed and therefore did not appear on the ballot: newcomers Nathaniel Hogan in Sub-district 2 and Manuel Abarca in Sub-district 3, as well as incumbents Pattie Mansur and Jennifer Wolfsie, both of whom hold at-large seats.

Kansas City’s nine-member school board is losing two members because of a state law requiring all school boards to have seven members. The change meant the elimination of one at-large and one sub-district seat, and sub-district boundaries were reconfigured.

In the Lee’s Summit school board race, a former school district employee and a longtime businessman emerged from a crowded field of eight candidates who fought for two vacant seats.

Judith C. Hedrick, 60, who worked in the district’s finance office, and businessman Michael D. Allen, 55, will take seats on the board, which has been fraught with controversy this school year over its support of the superintendent and efforts to hire a firm to train teachers and staff in race, equity and inclusion.

In unofficial totals, Hedrick captured 34 percent of the vote, and Allen captured 32 percent. They defeated Michael McMenus, Paul Dornon, Billy Wayne “Bill” Birmingham Jr., Amy Turgon, Donald R. Olson Jr. and Kathryn “Kathy” Campbell.

The number of people who tried for seats on the school board grew as the district struggled through what one longtime board member described as a “tumultuous” year.

Residents became divided over how to implement an equity and diversity plan that would help shrink the achievement gap between white and black students, and over the leadership style of the district’s first African American superintendent.

Calls for Superintendent Dennis Carpenter to be ousted may have also played a role in the number of candidates. Last month Carpenter agreed to a one-year contract extension offered by the current board.

Kansas City’s current board is still working on a new contract for Superintendent Mark Bedell and is likely to vote on whether to extend his leadership before the new board is in place.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.
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