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Missouri House bill could change how school boards elected

by Anna Campbell | February 3, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
In this Jan. 16, 2019 file photo, Rep. Rudy Veit discusses issues on the floor of the House Chambers in the Missouri Capitol.

School board members in Missouri could be elected from subdistricts, similar to city wards, under a new bill sponsored by a local lawmaker.

HB 1804, sponsored by Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, allows school districts with seven directors or urban districts to choose to divide into subdistricts, allowing board members to be elected from each subdistrict, provided the plan to subdivide is approved by voters.

Districts can also divide into a combination of subdistricts and at-large districts. Once a district subdivides, it is not allowed to make changes for five years. The bill would also prevent school districts from requiring petition signatures for a school board candidate to run.

Several people spoke in favor of Veit's bill.

Roy Holand, of Springfield, a previous representative, testified in favor.

"As you know, voting patterns tend to continue," Holand said, "and we have this going on in Springfield where the board members tend to come from the same neighborhoods or the same part of the community year after year. And we also have a 500-signature requirement to become even a candidate for the school board. That is difficult for a lot of people."

He pointed out the location of school board members on a map.

"The north side of the district has always suffered from an absence of residents on the school board, and they also have the highest free and reduced lunch," he said. "It runs 80-90 percent in that part of our community. The school district as a whole has 55 percent free and reduced lunch."

Brad Bates, a member of the Jefferson City School Board, also testified in favor of the bill, though he emphasized he was testifying as an individual and not on behalf of the board.

"It was really odd to me that as a district, a school district, that we couldn't mandate that, 'Hey, from this area we would like to have a representative,'" Bates said. "Because we all know you face issues that you're familiar with. If you live on a street and there's a pothole on that street, it's just natural that you would call the city and say, 'We have a pothole that needs to be fixed.' But if there's an area of town that you don't travel often, you don't have an idea that there's an issue other than what is brought forth to you by staff."

In doing his own research, Bates said, he concluded generally, the historical reason for not requiring members to be elected by geographic area was "because that was pre-civil rights era, and to be frank, there were areas of town and people they didn't want on a school board, and that's why it stayed as it has for the last 70 years."

"I think it makes a better board when you don't have an echo chamber, and you have diversity of thought, and I think it serves the kids better," he added.

The Missouri School Boards Association was also in favor.

The committee also voted to pass HB 1750, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, which allows voters to add agenda items to a school board meeting.

HB 1585, which would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop curriculum on the purpose and use of social media and other digital media, was also passed. HB 1585 is sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis.

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Click the links below to read the full bill:

• HB 1804: School board districts

Sponsor: Rep. Rudy Veit

• HB 1750: School board provisions

Sponsor: Rep. Chuck Basye

• HB 1585: Show-Me Digital Health Act

Sponsor Rep. Jim Murphy


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