Ferguson-Florissant School Board Races Top April 8th Ballot

By Bob Lindsey

Florissant and North County residents will go to the polls next Tuesday, April 8 to elect members to the Florissant City Council, Ferguson-Florissant and Hazelwood School Districts, plus vote on two ballot measures in the Black Jack Fire Protection District.

The Ferguson-Florissant School Board race with eight candidates will be one of the closely watch races. If both incumbents win reelection, there will only be one new board member. The election outcome could significantly reflect on what side voters are taking on the dismissal of Superintendent Art McCoy.

In recent weeks, there has been an abundance of information reported and speculated on why McCoy was placed on leave and what led to his official resignation in mid-March.  He had been on  paid leave since November, but came to an agreement with the school board on his resignation effective March 14.

At a public forum held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis with about 50 people in attendance, McCoy’s name was only mentioned a few times, and the eight candidates aid nothing about his long-term suspension, his resignation or anything on the controversy surrounding the issue.

Most of the eight candidates agreed that their first priority is the students, followed by the strategic planning and the district Foundation  plans. There were some mixed opinions on school choice, but most agreed parents have that option for their children. Most felt the transferring of students from Normandy and Riverview was in the best interest of those students and parents and the fact that it’s the law determined by the state.

The following are some of the comments made by school board candidates during closing statements at the forum  held at UMS last week.

Board president Paul Morris said the key issue facing the district is “discipline.”  The district has had only two suspension hearings in three years for disciplinary reasons, a figure that represents too much leniency, especially when compared to neighboring school districts like Hazelwood that have much higher suspension rates.

Incumbent Rob Chabot agreed that there has to be a distraction-free learning environment. He feels the district has accomplished a lot, “but we can do a lot more in such areas as student access to  higher level classes for our high academic achievers.”

Kimberly Benz said as a parent, “I’m not going anywhere.” She stressed fiscal responsibility, maintaining full accreditation, and restoring community confidence. If not elected, “somebody up here (on the stage) will have to put up with me” as she plans to stay active.

Donna Paulette-Thurman said she is “running for the children” and focuses on their achievement, plus the need for district accreditation,  fiscal  responsibility, and restoring public trust with “accountability and integrity.”

F. Willis Johnson said it is important for the district “to move forward and deal with challenges under the new board.”

James  Savala said that residents who want to know how the district moves forward should go to his website for much more specific details.

Lawanda Wallace said she learned a lot by “sitting in the classroom and loved it.”  She stressed that “parents have to get involved,” and added that “we need a change in the board.”

The Citizens for Education  and Community Change contend that the long dispute has cost the district  at least $48,000 in legal fees, but another view is that the district, now that McCoy is gone, is no longer paying  his six-figure salary. The Citizens for Education and Community Change represent three candidates, F. Willis Johnson Jr., Donna Paulette-Thurman and James Savala and were formed to offer an African-American slate of candidates and support McCoy while seeking more information from the current board on the reasons for his suspension.

The Citizens for Education and Community Change had recently sent another press release challenging the “self reported” breach that a board attorney Cindy Ormsby reported to the U.S. Department of Education that stated that former board member Jim Clark had access credentials  to all individual students’ education records.

The citizens group said, “Mr. Clark never received any information  from Dr. McCoy,…but it doesn’t matter  since  Mr. Clark’s volunteer status permits him access to this information” under federal FERPA  regulations. When the board found out, Clark’s access was terminated. Ormsby said in the letter that no other district employee has such access to records.

Incumbents board president Paul Morris and director Rob Chabot point to other matters that have been written about or reported.

• Volunteers only have access to district electronic files if they have a written contract with the district. Clark never came to a board meeting with a formal report, said Morris and Chabot and had no such contract.

• No one who is not an employee can access  a district  computer password, as apparently McCoy gave to Clark.

• Under terms of the settlement with McCoy and his attorney, McCoy cannot be rehired.

Biographies of all candidates are below:

Rob Chabot, 48, has lived in the Ferguson-Florissant School District for 20 years. He has previously served one term on the District’s Board of Education.

Chabot and his wife, Lisa, have two children currently attending District schools. In addition to his duties as a board member, Chabot has served as a parent volunteer as well as on the selection committee for the principal of Vogt Elementary School. Mr. Chabot is a practice administrator with Mobile Eye Care Solutions in Ferguson and is a member of the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Chamber of Commerce. A veteran of the United States Navy, he received a bachelor’s degree in history and government from Columbia College and a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Paul Morris, 61, has lived in the Ferguson-Florissant School District for 26 years. He has previously served one term on the District’s Board of Education.  Morris has two children, both of whom attended district schools and are Ferguson-Florissant graduates.

Morris serves on the district’s Green Committee. He currently works in design and development for a precision machining company and is an adjunct professor of engineering graphics at Florissant Valley Community College. Morris previously worked for 16 years as an industrial technology teacher before retiring from the district in 2010. During his employment as a teacher, Morris served as a department chair, member of the financial task force and the curriculum advisory committee. He was also involved with the Ferguson-Florissant National Education Association (FFNEA) and the Missouri NEA. Mr. Morris received a bachelor’s degree in industrial education from Northeast Missouri State University.

LaWanda Wallace has been a resident of the Ferguson-Florissant School District for five years.  Mrs. Wallace and her husband have four children who have attended or are currently attending District schools. She currently works in the WIC program at People’s Clinic in Florissant. Mrs. Wallace earned her GED at the St. Louis Job Corps Center.

Kimberly Benz, 34, has lived in the Ferguson-Florissant School District for 21 years and is a graduate of McCluer North High School. Mrs. Benz and her husband, Buzz, have four students currently attending District schools.   She is a member of the Parker Road Elementary School and Cross Keys Middle School Parent-Teacher Groups and a member of the Ferguson-Florissant Foundation steering committee.

Currently a stay-at-home parent, Mrs. Benz previously owned a home-based design and printing business. She is a member of St. Angela Merici parish in Florissant, a Girl Scout leader and Boy Scout leader and officeholder, and a representative of the 13th Senatorial District of the Missouri Republican State Committee. Mrs. Benz has an associate’s degree in business management from SLCC -Florissant Valley.

F. Willis Johnson, Jr., 39, has lived in the Ferguson-Florissant School District for three years. As senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, he has served as a community partner and mentor to students at Central Elementary School and McCluer High School.

Johnson currently leads the City of Ferguson’s Human Rights Commission and is president of the St. Louis Caucus of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. He is a member of the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Chamber of Commerce, the Ecumenical Leadership Council, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the Butler University Black Alumni Association. Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Butler University, a Master of Divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary.

Donna Paulette-Thurman, 57, has lived in the Ferguson-Florissant School District for 27 years, and previously served as principal of Griffith Elementary School for 10 years and principal of Holman Elementary School for five years. Currently retired, Dr. Paulette-Thurman is a deaconess and youth choir officer at New Sunny Mount Baptist Church.

Over her career, Dr. Thurman served as a principal for 21 years, a counselor for six years, and as an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis for one year. She holds bachelor’s degrees in early education, special education and elementary education, as well as a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She received her doctorate in education administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

James Savala, 52, has lived in the Ferguson-Florissant School District for 25 years and is a graduate of Berkeley High School. The parent of two children in the District, he is a member of the Parker Road Elementary School Parent-Teacher Group. Mr. Savala is a shop steward at Hussmann Corp., where he has worked for 28 years. He also serves as a deacon and as a captain of the Kings Men Ministry at Shalom Church (City of Peace) in Florissant.

Larry Thomas, 58,  has lived in the Ferguson-Florissant School District since 2008.  Currently self-employed as a community organizer, Thomas has worked previously as a St. Louis County elections clerk and as an administrative assistant with the St. Louis Public Library.  He has also held positions with Boeing, U.S. Bank and St. Louis Sportservice.  Thomas studied political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; journalism and mass communications at Tarkio College; education at Harris-Stowe State University and business management at Florissant Valley Community College.


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