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Outside groups fail to capture decisive wave of school board seats in St. Louis-area races

 The League of Women Voters displayed voter registration information at a candidates forum for the Rockwood School District's board of education on March 8th.
Kate Grumke
St. Louis Public Radio
The League of Women Voters displayed voter registration information at a candidates forum for the Rockwood School District's board of education on March 8.

In the lead-up to the municipal elections Tuesday, some school board elections in the St. Louis area were focused on heated debates over masking and how equity is taught in schools.

But even as outside advocacy groups threw their support behind candidates aligned with their views, there wasn’t one clear viewpoint that dominated across the region, according to a St. Louis Public Radio analysis of final unofficial results in St. Louis County and St. Charles County.

Conservative groups like No Left Turn in Education’s Missouri chapter distributed candidate guides with the headline “Take back Missouri’s schools from the Alt-Left,” while the progressive Missouri Equity Education Partnership created a guide that gave candidates ratings like “pro-equity” and “anti-equity.”

In the Kirkwood, Lindbergh and Parkway school districts, candidates rated “pro-equity” by the Missouri Equity Education Partnership won both available seats. In the St. Louis area, half of the candidates endorsed by the progressive group won their races.

That was also true for conservative-backed candidates; nearly half endorsed in the No Left Turn in Education guide won their seats. In Pattonville, Rockwood, Valley Park and Francis Howell, both elected candidates had been endorsed by the conservative organization.

The Rockwood School District has seen contentious debates over masking and how issues of race and diversity are taught. Candidates Izzy Imig and Jessica Clark won the two seats there and were both endorsed by No Left Turn in Education. Two candidates who were rated “pro-equity” by the Equity Education Partnership came in third and fourth in the district.

Many more school districts elected a mix of candidates who were endorsed by the groups or didn’t appear on either of the candidate guides.

Grace Church in Maryland Heights also posted candidate guides on its website, which was first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The guides highlighted two of the church’s members who were running for seats in the Kirkwood and Ritenour school districts. Neither candidate won.

In St. Louis County, 19.1% of registered voters turned out in this year’s municipal elections. That’s higher than previous years, which have hovered around 15%. In 2017, 23% of voters turned out for the April municipal elections.

In the Normandy Schools Collaborative and the Riverview Gardens School District, voters had the opportunity to elect school board members for the first time after years of state control due to both districts’ loss of accreditation.

The provisionally accredited districts will elect candidates over the course of the next few years and gradually return the board to local control, which is a step in the process of returning to full accreditation.

In the Normandy Schools Collaborative, Christopher E. Petty and Harlan Hodge won, and in the Riverview Gardens School District, Niketia L. Coleman and Wanda J. Lane secured the most votes.

“Local governance is a critical key to Normandy improving its student outcomes,” Normandy Joint Executive Governing Board President William Humphrey said in a statement. “For our community, this is a historic day! We welcome Dr. Petty and Mr. Hodge to the team and look forward to working together to provide the best education for our students.”

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.