Voters in the Ferguson-Florissant School District will elect two Board of Education members on April 2, and they have two capable and committed candidates – Constance “Connie” Harge and Sheila Powell-Walker – to choose out of a field of three.
Harge is an incumbent and board secretary elected in 2016. She is one of three (out of seven) current board members who are African-American. The lack of representation of black members on the board governing the majority-black school district was why the ACLU of Missouri and NAACP Missouri State Conference filed a federal suit alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. She is a voice from the community who has knowledge of the inner workings of the board and the district who should be reelected.
“You all have a voice, and we should listen to what you say,” Harge said to a passionate audience of voters at a candidate forum organized by the ACLU and NAACP on March 26. The audience response made it clear that voters do feel well represented by Harge, and we urge them to return her to the board.
Powell-Walker would join the board with an extraordinary amount of training and experience, including a doctorate in education and current position as a social worker in the School District of Clayton. She previously worked 14 years in the Riverview Gardens School District, including the time when it regained its accreditation. At the forum, she explained that she applied for a senior administrative position in Ferguson-Florissant and took the job in Clayton only when she was passed over for it.
Asked about the disconnect between the school board and the black community in the district at the forum, Powell-Walker said, “First, the district has to own it and admit that there is a problem.” This is the kind of accountability in leadership that this school district needs. Powell-Walker also showed a candor that is rare for candidates who often over-promise to tell voters what they want to hear. Even if she is elected, she said, “We’re not always going to do everything the community wants. But we will listen.”
The other candidate, Leslie Suzanne Hogshead, has been a member of the board since 1992, the year Bill Clinton was first elected U.S. president. Clearly, she does not think that she or the white-dominated board majority has anything to own up to regarding the black community. “I have always been responsive to the community and follow through with their concerns,” she wrote to the ACLU and NAACP. However, she wrote this in a letter where she said she would not attend the candidate forum to avoid “the bullying and harassment,” though she did not explain why she expected such treatment.
The St. Louis American strongly endorses Constance “Connie” Harge and Sheila Powell-Walker for the Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education.