A Deadline Deleted, KCPS Board Write-In Candidate Now Eligible

Feb 20, 2016

Natalie Lewis moved to the KCPS district so she could run for school board.
Credit Kyle Palmer / KCUR

Natalie Lewis is eligible to be a candidate for the Kansas City Public School Board. There is no doubt, she says, after a critical deadline was deleted sometime Friday from the district's election notice online. 

"Because of that information, I almost walked away twice. But I knew in the gut of guts and in talking to people that that information was not accurate," she says. 

Lewis declared a write-in candidacy for the open seat in Sub-District 1 this week after no candidates filed. She made public her intentions even though there were questions about her eligibility. 

The confusion centered on a date: Dec. 22, 2015. 

An earlier version of an election notice posted on the Kansas City Public Schools website said that any candidate running for school board must have met eight eligibility requirements, including being a "resident taxpayer and voter" of the school district, by Dec. 22. 

That deadline seemed to disqualify Lewis. She moved to an apartment just off the Country Club Plaza earlier this month from her home in the Hickman Mills School District so she could run a write-in candidacy. She moved even though she says district officials told her she was ineligible. 

"There was nothing malicious about it, but I hung up the phone and I thought there still isn't something right." 

The Dec. 22 deadline from the KCPS election notice is not included in the state statute governing local school board elections. Lewis says she talked with multiple attorneys who said she was, in fact, eligible. She forged ahead with making campaign materials and hiring advisers this week. At the same time, she says, she continued talking with district officials about the deadline. 

Then, sometime Friday, the Dec. 22 deadline was deleted from the online election notice and replaced with a link to the Missouri School Board Association's Candidate's Guide to Running for the School Board. That document lays out the same eight eligibility requirements with no specific deadline. 

"Thankfully they were able to get it resolved and get it pulled off (the website)," Lewis says. 

Lewis says she doesn't know who authorized the change or when exactly it was made. (Though she says the district has been "totally responsive" to all her concerns.)

The change may have something to do with the fact that Lewis currently has no challenger for the Sub-District 1 seat. She also appears qualified for the job: She is a former teacher and has degrees from MIT and the University of Texas. 

Requests for comment from Kansas City Public Schools regarding the change on the election notice were not returned. 

Sub-District 1, for which Lewis is campaigning, is one of three open seats that had no candidates file. In addition, Sub-Districts 3 and 5 will also be decided by write-in candidates.

John Fierro, the president and CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center, has declared a write-in candidacy for Sub-District 3. No one else has publicly announced plans to run as write-in candidates. 

Jennifer Wolfsie filed to run for an open at-large seat and will automatically win on the April 5 ballot because no one filed to challenge her. 

As for Lewis, she says she's glad the headache of determining her eligibility appears to be behind her so she can focus the next few weeks on actually campaigning. 

"We need a strong board and stronger candidates. And since no one is even on the ballot, we need good people running," she says.

A former teacher, Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and a reporter focused on education issues in the metro. You can follow him @kcurkyle