Springfield voters cite CRT and book bans in SPS board election to vote

Paul Borchett and his wife, Bernadette, voted on Tuesday at Parkview High School, near the independent residence where they reside.

Their children are grown and living elsewhere, but they wanted to vote in school board elections, supporting Steve Makoski and Kelly Byrne.

“I trust them more,” Paul said.

Bernadette said allegations that critical race theory was taught in public schools helped her choose.

“I want righteous people. We don’t want critical race theory because it’s all lies,” she said. “It’s time for honest leaders.”

Springfield voters were asked to choose two candidates from the five on the ballot. They included Byrne, Makoski, Chad Courtney, Brandi VanAntwerp and Charles Taylor, the sole incumbent.

Springfield School Board candidates clockwise from top left are Charles Taylor, Brandi VanAtwerp, Kelly Byrne, Steve Makoski and Chad Courtney.

The two candidates with the most votes on Tuesday will be sworn in on April 12 for a three-year term.

The News-Leader interviewed voters exiting precincts in various parts of the district at various parts of the morning and early afternoon.

Foot traffic was light, with the number of voters before noon reaching just double digits at a handful of polling stations.

Continued:Voter turnout of 8% at 1:15 p.m.

Anna Hunt, stage shop supervisor for Missouri State University’s theater and dance department, cast her ballot early at the Davis-Harington Welcome Center on campus.

An educator with two children in the neighborhood, she supported Taylor and VanAntwerp. “I feel like they are the only candidates who have a lot of experience with children and/or schools.”

Hunt said she believes teachers shouldn’t be restricted or forced to justify their curriculum.

Anna Hunt

“I’m very interested in schools being open to teaching many different ways of thinking,” Hunt said. “I’m not interested in things being restricted or banned or expelled. I don’t think our teachers need to justify or present all of their lesson plans far in advance. Supervision, of course, is important, but I don’t think we need to push teachers to approach subjects in any specific way.

Linda Richards, who has children in the district, voted for Taylor and VanAntewerp at Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church.

She said the two will “represent the district well” and noted that the most important issue in this election was that school staff receive better salaries.

Markus Blain, who has one child in the district, also voted in Woodland Heights for Taylor and VanAntwerp.

Continued:School board election turnout estimated at 15-18%, county clerk says

Blain said he was concerned that Byrne and Makoski would impose their religious beliefs on children at SPS schools.

“There were a few candidates who really focused on their religious beliefs during the campaign. They were, you know, a ‘church man’. And that makes me suspicious of people – makes me think they will try to put the Bible in our schools.”

He also believes that Byrne and Makoski would try to ban books that do not conform to their political or religious beliefs.

“I think we shouldn’t ban literature in the classroom and these candidates had pretty tasteless responses to that as well,” he said.

Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Ozarks Technical Community College, was among the first wave of voters on the Missouri State campus.

As an educator and mother of two children taught in Springfield, McGrady said it was important to vote.

She researched the candidates through social media, News-Leader coverage and a public forum.

“We actually held an election forum at the OTC for political candidates a few weeks ago,” she said. “I had the opportunity to talk to some of them at that time. I try to always be educated on these issues.

Continued:The elections are Tuesday. Here’s what’s on the ballot in Greene County

Melissa Penkalski, director of the graduate program at Missouri State School of Nursing, has three children in the district. She ran for the school board in 2015.

“Even though we didn’t have much on the ballot today, it was still important to make a statement,” she said.

Penkalski said she heard about each candidate through letters and public discussions. She did not release names but said she voted for the two candidates she believes will put students first.

Melissa Penkalski

“I think keeping kids front and center, making sure we’re doing what’s best for the kids and the kids in Springfield (is important),” Penkalski said. “Keep the school safe and give them the education they need.”

Bookstore Billing Specialist and Clinic Coordinator Janet Wicks voted at Missouri State and proudly wore an “I Voted” sticker.

She researched candidates by reading media coverage and speaking with educators in the school system.

“I wanted someone who had the best interests of students and teachers, going back to a basic education,” Wicks said.

Janet Wicks wore a "I voted" sticker on Tuesday after leaving a polling station.

Lexi Cermak, a 23-year-old parent of a young student, voted at Crossway Church. She supported Taylor, saying he had “done a good job on the board” and VanAntwerp because Cermak doesn’t want “a school board made up of all white males.”

Most important to her is the book ban issue, which she believes Makoski and Byrne support.

“It’s really important to be able to choose what they read. Banning books is not acceptable,” she said. “People who supported non-liberal candidates were posting on social media the books they would like to ban.”

A student walks past the Election Court signs outside the state of Missouri's Davis-Harrington Welcome Center on Tuesday.

Cermak also wants to ensure that there remains a separation of church and state within schools.

“There are a lot of people who come out and vote based on what their church tells them to vote, so I basically wanted to cancel them out,” she said.

With a kindergarten and three other children under the age of six, Kimberlee Nevins’ family made the decision to send their children to public school rather than private school or home schooling.

“It’s a way for me to raise my voice and choose,” Nevins said outside Second Baptist Church. “There’s a lot of hot topics going on right now, I guess, just to be politically correct. I’m definitely leaning one way, so I wanted to vote for people who I think would support what I believe in.

The permanent Springfield resident doesn’t really watch TV but has received emails about contestants. After searching online and talking with others, she decided to vote for Byrne and Makoski.

Continued:Springfield senator, leader of House Democrats, running for re-election against challengers

“I think they’ll just have the best teacher interest (and) the best support,” Nevins said. “I spoke to a lot of teachers who were enthusiastic about them and honestly they are the ones who are most affected.”

Sarah Jean Baker, assistant professor of early childhood education and family studies at Missouri State, has four children in the Springfield public school system. She voted for Taylor and VanAnvers.

“I voted for Charles and Brandi because they understand and have perspective on what all students and families need in our community,” Baker said. “The school district serves everyone in the public, and it’s really important to have people who value and appreciate different perspectives.”

Sarah Jean Baker

She said VanAntwerp’s perspective as a woman and mother also bolstered her vote.

“Brandi is also a mom with kids in the district, and that’s very important to me too, because as women we have different challenges; we live life differently,” Baker said. “I’m excited to get her perspective on the council (if elected). She also has foster children, so she also works with another system within the public education system.

Baker said she leans toward both candidates, but Taylor and VanAntwerp’s endorsement by the Springfield National Education Association proved significant.

“I would say SNEA got the right endorsements,” she said. “I was happy to see that the SNEA supported candidates who are pro-public education.”

Claudette Riley is the News-Leader’s educational reporter. Email news tips to [email protected]

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