Five candidates are vying for three open positions on the Springfield School Board in next month’s election. Four of them, Bruce Renner, Francine Pratt, Swayne Loftis and Jill Patterson participated in the forum, hosted by the Springfield NAACP.
Jill Patterson is a former Greene County prosecutor and currently a practicing attorney.
“I’ve worked a lot on child advocacy over the years and I feel strongly about that issue and this feels to me like an opportunity to advocate for 25,000 kids at a time,” Patterson said.
Swayne Loftis is a conservation contractor working in Springfield and the surrounding areas.
“The reason why I’m running for school board is we’ve got a lot of great things going on in Springfield Public Schools in my opinion, but there’s room for improvement,” Loftis said.
Francine Pratt is the executive director for multicultural programs at Missouri State University.
“I grew up in the public school system, my children were in the public school system, and since I’ve been in Springfield I’ve been working with children, youth and young adults,” Pratt said.
Bruce Renner is the only incumbent seeking reelection.
“I’ve been on the school board for 21 years,” Renner said. “I’m still excited about it and it’s the way I give
Enabling parents to actively participate in their child’s school and academic progress was among the more discussed issues.
“You have to meet people where they’re comfortable and so we’re going to have to find out where that might be besides the school building,” Renner said.
“You have to go to where the parents are, where those families are because they’re not always going to feel comfortable coming to the school or coming to a meeting at the school district,” Pratt said.
“I can tell you from my own experience there are places I’ve gone, schools in this district I’ve gone I felt welcome and other ones I have not felt as welcome,” Patterson said. “I can only assume that is harder for some families and some students. So you do have an issue of access to choice, but it’s broader than that and it has to be an issue of welcoming.”
Loftis believes parents should be allowed to determine where their children attend school via a voucher program.
“Give them 90 percent of their share of education dollars where they can go into the free market and I’m telling you they can get results tomorrow,” Loftis said. “It’s not the silver bullet, but it allows parents that are sad about their child not succeeding to do something about it now while they are still young.”
He also believes that parents should be given the option to create education savings accounts from that 90 percent.
“Private schools in Springfield cost about $4,000 per child, the Springfield public school spends $8,500 per child,” Loftis said. “You could send your kid to one of the most expensive schools in Springfield and still have $4,000 a year left over.”
Patterson believes the learning model at Robberson Elementary does a lot in offering encouragement between the community’s parents and teachers. Robberson is a year round community based learning model that enables parents to access the school to acquire needs based services. More than 90 percent of students at Robberson are on free or reduced lunch.
“That community based model brings a lot of things that aren’t about the child’s schooling to the school, so that people become more comfortable coming to the school that has nothing to do with attending class or attending conferences,” Patterson said.
Renner and Pratt expressed the importance of the school board and superintendent being accountable.
“So I think we have to be very intentional about what we want and we have to actually start doing something,” Renner said. “If we don’t do something then we’re never going to make progress.”
“So the superintendent is responsible, he’s hired, he’s supposed to be the expert and having the oversight of all of the schools,” Pratt said. “That means as a board member, we have to hold him accountable for every expectation he was hired to do.”
The candidates were also asked about their perceptions of multicultural issues in the Springfield school district, all of whom agree that the district can do more to become more conscious about cultural issues. Loftis added that parents should have a choice to place their children in a school that respects their religious beliefs.
Patty Ingold is the other School Board candidate that will appear on the April 7 ballot. The Sunday school teacher, Parents as Teachers educator, and prior public and private school teacher, was not present at the forum.
There will be two more forums ahead of the election. Tonight at 6:30, the League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri and the MSU Center for Community Engagement will co-host a forum. It will take place in the hospitality room of the university’s Meyer Alumni Center, 300 S. Jefferson Ave. Additionally, the Springfield chapter of the Missouri State Teachers Association will have a forum at 6:30 p.m. March 31 at The Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Ave.
To locate your polling place, visit the Missouri Secretary of State’s website here.