COLUMBIA — In an election that became a referendum on the Columbia Public School District’s controversies, including budget shortfalls, the new high school site selection and math curriculum, voters chose to change the makeup of the school board.
Tom Rose received the most votes, with 25.2 percent. Rosie Tippin got 21.7 percent, and Ines Segert received 19.6 percent. Candidates who were not in the top three and will not have seats on the board were Darin Preis with 14.5 percent, Gale "Hap" Hairston with 13.8 percent and Arch Brooks with 5 percent.
In his first election, Rose, a veterinarian appointed in June 2007 to succeed departing board member Don Ludwig, received the most votes of any of the six candidates.
“I have a challenge ahead of me,” Rose said Tuesday night. “Some people won’t be happy with what we have to decide.”
Rose said he was “kind of surprised” about the results. “I think the voters realized I’m not afraid to say my piece,” he said.
Tippin, a retired principal from West Boulevard Elementary School, was the second biggest vote-getter, with a campaign focused on improving education in the district and closing the achievement gap.
“I am excited about getting started, and I’m excited about being in the middle of it,” Tippin said during what became a victory celebration at Boone Tavern. “I just want to get started. ... It’s something that I want to do for the community and especially for the youngsters.”
Segert, a psychology professor at MU, ran a campaign critical of the 54-cent property tax levy increase, which failed on Tuesday, and called for more open communication from the school board. She won the third seat over incumbent Darin Preis.
“I’m excited about trying to make a difference,” Segert said from her watch party at the Forge and Vine. “I’m looking forward to working with the other board members.”
Segert got a call from her father about 9 p.m. telling her she’d won; at the time, she was at her son’s jazz concert at Rock Bridge High School. Rose was also at the concert, listening to his child perform. The two board members talked there, and she said they agreed it was more important to be in the audience than watching the results.
Preis, who lost his first defense of his school board seat, was disappointed. He said he thinks voters didn’t understand his role on the board.
“I think people have a misunderstanding about the administration, maybe the board, certainly me as a part of the status quo,” Preis said Tuesday night at Flat Branch Pub and Brewery. Sitting with him were board President Karla DeSpain and members Steve Calloway and Jan Mees, as well as district administrators.
“I don’t mind connecting myself to this administration,” Preis said. “I’ve seen their work as delegated and efficient, and I’m proud of this administration.”
Preis said he wants to mentor at West Boulevard Elementary School and spend more time with his young son.
The two incumbents, Rose and Preis, were involved in re-election bids, but the third seat came open with David Ballenger’s decision to step down.
Coming in fifth in the race was Gale “Hap” Hairston, who oversees educator preparation for the state. He gathered with his wife, sons, daughter-in-law, granddaughter and mother-in-law at home, watching the Cardinals game while his mother-in-law checked the results online. Before 9 p.m., it appeared he wasn’t going to win.
“It’s disappointing,” Hairston said. “A lot of people went out on limb with (my campaign).”
He said he doesn’t foresee running for the school board again. “I’ve got a great job,” Hairston said. “I’ve got a great family. I’ve got enough to keep me busy.”
Arch Brooks, who was running for the board for a fifth time, came in last.
Voters sought change in the school board, in part, as a reaction to perceived lack of communication between the district and community members.
“The parents in this community care deeply about how students are doing,” said MU researcher Tracy Greever-Rice, 44. “The board and the district’s administration need to take the parents’ values seriously and consider them as partners, not as subjects.”
And as a few words of advice, voters said new board members should foster communication in the coming months.
“I’d like to see some accountability,” Larry Goodwin, a 58-year-old brewer, said. “For them to be more honest and forthright.”
The new board members will have early opportunities to show why the people elected them. They will be sworn in at the April 14 school board meeting and will then have to decide on budget cuts.
“I guess we’ve already decided on level one cuts,” Rose said. “Next meeting we’ll have to decide on renewing contracts, if we have to decrease employee contracts.”
Rose thinks that reworking some of those contracts could reduce the impact on the classrooms. “We can save some major areas just by cutting some teacher work days,” he said.
Tippin said she will weigh cuts carefully on her first night on the board.
“I am going to listen, first of all, and try to see which things would be least intrusive in the classroom,” Tippin said. “You’ve got to have teachers and materials there, then you can decide what to cut.”
Segert agreed that the new members should work to save teaching positions from the cuts.
“My feeling is just because the superintendent proposes to cut teacher positions doesn’t mean the board has to agree,” Segert said. “We can find other places where we can make cuts.”
Missourian reporters Eleonora Barak, Kate Genellie, Jane Kellogg and Regan Palmer contributed to this report.