Steve Booher common thoughts - NEW LEAD

If the results of last week’s school board elections surprised some a bit, keep in mind that any political race that has 10 legitimate candidates is a giant crap shoot.

Anything can happen.

To refresh, Dr. Bryan Green and former teacher and Missouri State Teacher’s Association state president Tami Pasley were the chosen two out of that crowded field. Green garnered almost one-fourth of the votes. Pasley edged out incumbent Eric Bruder by 161 votes.

Maybe there are a few lessons that can be learned from this election.

First, perhaps patrons of the St. Joseph School District don’t really care that much after all.

After all the scandals — the FBI investigation, the grand jury subpoenas, the resignations of two top administrators and the settled lawsuit by former chief financial officer Beau Musser — voter turnout was only 16 percent.

Fewer than two in 10 voters decided that the first post-scandal election was important enough to participate.

Second, low turnout usually gives the advantage to candidates who spend the most money or can marshal their supporters to get to the polls. The latter turned out to be true.

Two weeks before the election, campaign brochures for Bruder and former Herzog executive Art Van Meter started showing up in people’s mailboxes, which led to an uproar that outside political action committees spending outside money were trying to influence the election.

The brochures probably weren’t paid for by the candidates themselves but both candidates were affected by the backlash. We’ve seen these efforts before. Slick printed literature seems to show up in mailboxes at the 11th hour, mostly campaigning against tax increases.

Maybe local voters are tired of outside interests trying to make decisions for them.

Green and Pasley used conventional campaign strategy. They participated in the candidate forums and put out yard signs. And were able to deliver enough supporters to win.

I worry a bit about Bruder’s defeat. He filled the board seat when Dan Colgan resigned and had an immediate impact. He appeared to meet problems head on and was aggressive about balancing the school district budget.

Bruder appeared comfortable making tough decisions, like eliminating the all-inclusive free breakfast program. Perhaps he ruffled too many feathers.

And I worry a bit about the MSTA becoming too powerful on our board. While I think the group has done a good job looking after the welfare of teachers, I wonder if its agenda will find room to look out for taxpayers as well.

Too often, education groups feel that the solution to any problem is throwing money around. Let’s say that, in order to balance the school district budget, salary cuts and eliminating staff positions are necessary. Will Green and Pasley be able to make those tough votes?

It’s a good question.

And, here’s another good question: Who will lead this board?

Vice president Martin Rucker seems to be the heir apparent and rumors say he has the four votes required.

No matter the leadership, the board will need to prove to taxpayers that it can provide the best education possible for students while being responsible to taxpayers. If they can do this, getting a tax levy increase passed becomes possible.

But if the board looks out too much for educators and administrators and ignores the people footing the bill, trouble will once again visit the board room at 925 Felix St.

Steve Booher can be reached at steve.booher@newspressnow.com.