At first, there seemed to be nobody ready to run on the April 5 ballot for three open seats on the Kansas City Public Schools board. Now that's changed dramatically.
A total of five people have publicly declared write-in candidacies, several coming in the past week. And now two of the races have multiple candidates, lending a sense of belated competition to a campaign that some had feared would be uncontested and, as a result, overlooked.
A race in Sub-District 5 : Ajia Morris and Catina Taylor
On Monday, lawyer Ajia Morris threw her name into the Sub-District 5 contest, joining teacher Catina Taylor, who made her announcement about a week earlier. Morris is currently an executive with Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas and a former head of KCPS's homeless students program.
"I learned the process of how to get things done in the district," Morris says.
She notes that the "passion" teachers and district employees have for their work often gets overlooked by critics of the district but problems still exist.
"There are some institutional practices that need to be broken down, reevaluated, and honestly taken to bat to make sure what we are doing is in the best educational interests of our children."
She says if elected she will prioritize connecting students and families with community resources and also ensuring the district's funds are equitably distributed, especially to the most vulnerable populations.
Taylor has been a teacher in both public and private schools throughout the metro for more than a decade. She is also a former 'Incubator Fellow' with education innovation shop The Lean Lab. For the past few years, she says she's been trying to start a "new school model" pilot in the district.
"It centers on the evolution of education. We have an archaic school model, built for an industrialized nation, which we no longer are," she says.
However, if elected, she would have to at least temporarily give up that venture in order to serve on the board without a conflict of interest. She would also have to step down from her current post as a long-term substitute teacher at African-Centered College Preparatory Academy. But she says she felt compelled to run after no candidate officially filed for the Sub-District 5 seat.
"Our students deserve more than that. They deserve people who are committed to them and committed to the process and want to be part of that process of making education great for all of them."
Sub-District 1: Natalie Lewis and Albert Ray
Sub-District 5 was not the only open seat that had no candidates formally file. Sub-Districts 1 and 3 had the same problem. Now, at least, Sub-District 1 also has a competitive race.
On Monday, architect Albert Ray announced his intention to run in that precinct as a write-in. He will challenge retired teacher Natalie Lewis, who launched her campaign last month after working through initial doubts that she was eligible.
In a statement, Ray writes, "We must take our district’s accomplishments and not simply publish them, but grow them into the brand of district that we desire. The mission of the district must be to support the long term vision and be sustainable in that it can weather leadership change."
Ray is a retired Army Reserve officer and a graduate of the Kansas State University School of Architecture.
In Sub-District 3, Mattie Rhodes President and CEO John Fierro has yet to face any challengers after he declared a write-in candidacy last month. In addition, Jennifer Wolfsie filed as candidate for the open at-large seat and, facing no challenger, will be automatically declared the winner April 5.
KCPS Board of Directors open seats and candidates for April 5 election
Sub-District 1: Natalie Lewis (write-in), Albert Ray (write-in)
Sub-District 3: John Fierro (write-in); Marisol Montero (write-in)
Sub-District 5: Ajia Morris (write-in), Catina Taylor (write-in), Bryan Dial (write-in)
At-large: Jennifer Wolfsie (on ballot, no challenger)
A former teacher, Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and a reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle.