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St. Louis Residents Pepper School Board Candidates On Ties To Charter Schools

Five of the seven candidates for the St. Louis school board answered questions at a forum Wednesday evening, March 13, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Five of the seven candidates for the St. Louis school board answered questions at a forum Wednesday evening.

Adam Layne began “noticing a theme” after a third consecutive question about affiliations with charter schools during last night’s St. Louis school board candidate forum.

Layne is running again for the school board after an unsuccessful run in November. But the former Teach For America corp member at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy is already on a board of the soon-to-open Kairos Academy charter school. Two other candidates had some ties to the independent public schools that educate about a third of St. Louis’ public school kids.

Seven candidates are running for the St. Louis Board of Education next month. It’s very likely those elected to the board on April 2 will be handed back power over St. Louis Public Schools later this year. After nearly 12 years of state control, the state school board is expected to vote to reinstate the elected board in April.

There were very few people in the auditorium of Central Visual and Performing Arts on a mid-week rainy evening. Those who were there to learn about the candidates seemed to have one big concern: Could Layne and some of the other candidates “serve two masters,” as one questioner put it.

“I don’t serve the school, I serve the students and the families in the school, so that’s first and foremost,” Layne said of his involvement with the charter school.

In response to another question, Layne said he is not in favor of closing down traditional public schools in order to open more charter schools.

“That’s not the case. I don’t think a charter opens so that a traditional public school closes,” he said.

Louis Cross is also running for the school board. He had a long career in SLPS and was involved with the teachers’ union before briefly working as principal and interim superintendent of the now-closed Ethel Hedgemen charter school.

Another candidate, David Merideth, is a parent of several SLPS students and was on the task force that studied the district’s future governance in 2017. He has one child in a charter school that he said provides better special education services than the district.

“I do not feel that if I was working in a charter program and actively encouraging students to leave SLPS to go to the charter program, I would be serving my duties on the elected board,” Meredith said.

Other candidates at the forum were former teacher and principal Barbara Anderson and Bill Haas, who has served twice previously on the board. Not in attendance were former teacher and education policy researcher Tracee Miller and Dan McCready.

The candidates also said they don’t want to see more SLPS schools close because of low enrollment. They said the city needs to invest in neighborhoods around under-enrolled schools and not deprive the district of funding through tax abatements for development in the city’s central corridor.

The top two vote getters in the April 2 race will win a spot on the board. There are no incumbents on the ballot because Charli Cooksey and Katie Wessling are not running for re-election.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.