ST. LOUIS–In April, voters will go to the polls and elect city councils, mayors, decide school bond questions and choose school board members across the St. Louis area. In most cases, two school board slots are up for grabs, and in some cases three.
But in four of the region’s largest school districts—Rockwood, Parkway, Mehlville and Fort Zumwalt, no board incumbents are seeking new terms in office. The filing deadline closed on December 28, although the list of candidates won’t be officially certified until late January.
In interviews with FOX2, board members have talked about the challenges brought on by the past two years-a global pandemic which forced schools into virtual learning and debates about mask mandates–although none who responded specifically cited COVID as the main factor in their decisions.
“I just felt it was time,” Parkway School Board member Sam Sciortino, a longtime district educator and administrator who was first elected in 2010. “I’m older…I’m probably at the point where I need to slow down a little bit.”
As for the passionate debates which have sprung up over the past two years? “That’s been such a difficult time for everyone. The district wants to do the right thing for students,” he said. “The one thing we’ve had is civility. We feel their angst, we feel their concerns, it’s sincere.”
Pam Hill also opted against seeking a new term on the Parkway board. In an email she said there was no specific reason for her decision, but declined an interview.
In the Rockwood School district, board members and administrators have faced threats over issues of diversity and inclusion, on top of the challenges of navigating COVID. Board members Loralee Mondl and Thomas Dunn did not respond to questions asking about their decision not to run again.
“Two terms was my original plan when I ran in 2016 because my youngest child graduates this spring,” said Mehlville’s Kevin Schartner. “I’ve put a lot into these six years and felt it would be the right time to step back and see new community leaders step up.”
“I have served 21 years,” Fort Zumwalt Board President Michael Swaringim wrote in an email. “My turn has ended, and it’s time for others to step up. I have different plans that I would like to pursue.”
In the FOX C-6 school district, two of the board’s three incumbents have decided not to run. Judith Smith told FOX2 she plans to devote more time to a Mission organization that provides free eyeglasses for those in need.
“These past two years have been very difficult. It is always difficult to make decisions that everyone agrees with. Some days people love you and some days they hate you. As board president this year I have tried to lead and move forward with what is best for ALL of our students and staff. I do not let negativity get in the way of doing what is right for students and staff,” she told FOX2 via email.
Incumbents are running for re-election in Ritenour, Maplewood-Richmond Heights and in Jennings, among others surveyed, where all three will be on the ballot. In Ferguson-Florissant, Board President Sheila Powell-Walker is running again, while Leslie Hogshead is not. Hogshead has been on the board since 1992 and did not respond to a request for comment.
“The last three years have been a whirlwind,” Powell-Walker, who was first elected in 2019, said in an interview. The first six months she described as what you might expect for a typical board, before the “twin pandemics” of racial unrest and COVID-19 erupted nationally in 2020. She said she needed to consider whether or not to run again, but opted to put her name before voters again.
“Even though things are very tumultuous right now in the world of education, the needs of our children haven’t changed, and so someone still has to sit at the table and make thoughtful decisions that are going to ensure that all kids are going to have access to the learning they deserve.”
Powell-Walker, Terry Turner and Jillian Dunn are running for one of the two seats on the board in April, pending the certification of candidates.