Three of the seven spots on the Springfield school board will be decided in April 2021, and it is not yet clear if any incumbents will be on the ballot.
The current terms for Gerry Lee, Jill Patterson and Bruce Renner will expire next year and none have committed to running for another three-year term. However, none have yet ruled it out.
Renner, first elected in 1994, and Lee, first appointed in 2006, are the longest-running members on the current board. Patterson, an attorney and Missouri State University’s Title IX coordinator, was elected in 2015.
The News-Leader reached out to the three this week. Patterson said: “I have enjoyed my term and am considering whether to run again.”
Renner and Lee said they were leaning toward not running again and planned to make a final decision soon.
They worry about the loss of institutional knowledge if incumbents with years of history and context — 27 years for Renner, 15 years for Lee and six years for Patterson — all leave just as a new superintendent is starting.
Superintendent John Jungmann announced plans to retire from public education at the end of the 2020-21 year, and the search for his replacement has begun.
“I’m not 100 percent I’m going to run again,” said Lee, 67. “What is weighing on me is that we have three openings at the same time.”
Lee, associate executive director for the Missouri School Boards’ Association, owns five UPS stores and consults in the utility industry. Work often takes him to Jefferson City and Columbia.
“It’s the logistics,” he said. “It’s tough to do the things you want on the board when you are in Columbia.”
Lee described his time on the board as “the best 15 years” but acknowledged it is also a long time. “Maybe it’s time for someone new.”
In addition to hiring and evaluating a superintendent, the governing body sets policy and approves an annual budget.
Renner, a retired Springfield educator who still teaches classes at Ozarks Technical Community College, said he planned to leave the board next year.
“I had decided that this was going to be my last time until Dr. Jungmann announced that he was not coming back. That has given me a little pause to think,” he said. “I am still kind of leaning that way.”
The board hopes to name a new superintendent as early as mid-March, while Patterson, Lee and Renner are still on the board. Renner said the possibility of working with a new leader is exciting.
“If (Jungmann) was still going to be there, I just felt like — I don’t know how to say this tactfully — the effect that I had I didn’t feel was really valued very much,” Renner said. “I don’t need to go through the motions.”
Renner, who started teaching in 1966, said he has stayed involved “all these years” out of a love for students, teachers and public education.
“It is just who I am,” he said.
He said the pandemic, while difficult, has accelerated innovation and will provide insight into the teaching and learning process. “It is going to teach us things.”
Renner, 77, said he worries about the impact of having a new superintendent and up to three new board members.
“You are losing a lot of the historical perspective of the district there,” he said. “That, to me, if I was a new superintendent coming in, the amount of stability (regarding board membership) would be somewhat important.”
Lee, Renner and Patterson have all served as president of the school board in the past.
The four other board members include:
- Alina Lehnert, a leadership expert, first elected in 2016, her current term ends in 2022. She serves as board president;
- Denise Fredrick, a retired Springfield teacher and administrator, first elected in 2011, her current term ends in 2023. She serves as board vice president;
- Charles Taylor, a professor at Drury University, first elected in 2016, his current term ends in 2022;
- Shurita Thomas-Tate, an associate professor at Missouri State University, elected in 2020. Her term ends in 2023.
The Springfield board recently posted a series of important dates for anyone interested in running for a three-year term:
- Nomination packets and petitions for prospective candidates can be picked up beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, Nov. 16 at the Kraft Administrative Center, 1359 E. St. Louis St.;
- Completed packets must be returned between 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15 and 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021;
- To be placed on the ballot a candidate “shall be a voter of the district” who has lived in the district for at least one year prior to the election. The candidate must be at least age 24;
- Candidates must also submit petitions to the board secretary by the deadline that include the signatures of at least 500 registered district voters.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to email@example.com.