The NAACP of St. Joseph held a forum Tuesday featuring the candidates contending for the three available seats on the SJSD Board of Education.
The final candidates are Colby Oyerly, David Foster, David Jordan, Rick Gehring, Lute Atieh, Larry Koch, LaTonya Williams and Kenneth Reeder. No one else is permitted to enter the race at this time, as the deadline has passed. The election is scheduled for Tuesday, April 6.
The most prominent policy topic focused on Monday’s news that the SJSD wants to purchase the 92-acre plot of land and buildings in the 4800 block of Mitchell Avenue, immediately south of Missouri Western State University. The campus, to date the regional headquarters of American Family Insurance Group, is available for sale or lease by its owner at an as-yet-unknown asking price. SJSD envisions turning the buildings and surroundings into a high school.
All three incumbents — Koch, Atieh and Gehring — backed the $107 million bond issue and associated high school plan. Three of the challengers — Foster, Jordan and Williams — indicated they are asking their supporters to vote for the measure for various reasons.
Incumbent Koch said the plan will be essential to correcting the imbalance in educational opportunities between Central, Benton and Lafayette high schools. The two resulting high schools, Central and the new building, will have renovations and equal programs, benefits and services available, he said.
Incumbent Atieh said it is unacceptable that residents of St. Joseph have schools less than 30 minutes south of the city which are completely modern in terms of climate control and services, and yet all three high schools have sections without air conditioning. The funding and high school plan is essential to fix this, he said.
Incumbent Gehring said he previously opposed any change to the three-high-school system, but that his time on the board since being appointed in 2020 and the data shown to him leaves him convinced that the changes must be affirmed. It’s all about equivalent academic opportunities for all high school students, he said.
Challenger Foster said that the district likely cannot afford to retain three high schools in the long term, at least not in the three current buildings, and therefore it is prudent to support two high schools in a controlled and carefully planned manner that prepares for the future. Therefore, he is in favor.
Challenger Williams said she will support the proposal as it stands but that parents have not yet been given enough information about how the plan will be implemented. She does have lots of reservations, especially with regard to ensuring the two remaining high schools will be guaranteed to have equal services.
Challenger Jordan said he is in favor of the proposal but that he also believes more needs to be done to inform the public about what money will be raised and how the district will use that money. In particular, he said, district leaders need to do a better job explaining the savings and new costs of the program.
Challenger Colby Oyerly said he saw merit in the proposal and doesn’t wish to ask anyone to oppose school funding, but he opposes any change to the number of high schools. He did not explicitly say he therefore opposes the bond issue, but implied that he would not be in favor of it in light of how it will cause this change to occur.
Challenger Kenneth Reeder stood alone in urging voters to reject the bond issue, and called the American Family purchase idea a deliberate attempt to confuse the electorate. The district leadership is overpaid and unaccountable to the public and therefore can’t be trusted to manage the situation well or fairly, he said.
Overall, NAACP asked the candidates three policy-related questions each, in addition to an “introduce yourself” question.
The deadline to register to vote is Wednesday, March 10. All persons who have not previously registered, or who have changed residence since the last time they voted, among other circumstances, must register to vote via (for example) the Missouri Secretary of State’s website: https://www.sos.mo.gov/.
A review of the remotely held event recorded courtesy of Zoom is available at newspressnow.com.