Paul Borchett and his wife, Bernadette, voted Tuesday at Parkview High School, near the independent living facility where they reside.
Their children are grown and live elsewhere but they wanted to vote in the school board election, supporting Steve Makoski and Kelly Byrne.
“I trust you more,” Paul said.
Bernadette said allegations of critical race theory being taught in public schools helped her pick.
“I want people who are righteous. We don’t want the critical race theory because those are a bunch of lies,” she said. “It’s time for honest leaders.”
Springfield voters were asked to pick two candidates from among the five on the ballot. They included Byrne, Makoski, Chad Courtney, Brandi Van Antwerp and Charles Taylor, the only incumbent.
The two candidates with the most votes Tuesday will be sworn in April 12 for at-large, three-year terms.
The News-Leader interviewed voters exiting precincts in various parts of the district, during different parts of the morning and early afternoon.
Foot traffic was light with the number of voters before noon only hitting double digits in a handful of polling spots.
More:Election turnout at 8 percent as of 1:15 pm
Anna Hunt, the theater and dance department scene shop supervisor at Missouri State University, voted early at the Davis-Harington Welcome Center on campus.
An educator with two children in the district, she backed Taylor and VanAntwerp. “I feel like they’re the only candidates that have very much experience with children and/or schools.”
Hunt said she believes teachers should not be limited or forced to justify their curriculum.
“I’m very interested in schools being open to teaching a lot of different ways of thinking,” Hunt said. “I’m not interested in things being narrowed down, banned or kicked out. I don’t think that our teachers need to justify or present, well in advance, all of their lesson plans. Oversight, of course, is important, but I don’t think we need railroad teachers to approach subject matters in a specific way.”
Linda Richards, who has children in the district, voted for Taylor and Van Antewerp at the Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church.
She said the two will “represent the district well” and noted the most important issue in this election is for school staff to receive better salaries.
Markus Blain, who has a child in the district, also voted at Woodland Heights for Taylor and Van Antwerp.
More:School board election turnout estimated at 15-18 percent, says county clerk
Blain said he fears Byrne and Makoski might force their religious beliefs on children in SPS schools.
“There were a couple of candidates who really focused on their religious beliefs in the campaign. They were, you know, a ‘man of the church’. And that just leads me to distrust people — makes me think they’re going to try to put the Bible in our schools.”
He also believes Byrne and Makoski would attempt to ban books that do not conform to their political or religious beliefs.
“I believe we shouldn’t be banning literature in the classroom and those candidates also had sort-of wishy-washy answers about that,” he said.
Tracy McGrady, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Ozarks Technical Community College, was among the first wave of voters on the Missouri State campus.
As an educator and mother of two children taught in Springfield, McGrady said it was important to vote.
She researched the candidates through social media, news-leader coverage and a public forum.
“We actually held a voter forum at OTC for the political candidates a couple weeks ago,” she said. “I had the opportunity to talk to some of them then. I try to always be educated about these issues.”
More:Elections are Tuesday. Here’s what’s on the ballot in Greene County
Melissa Penkalski, director of Missouri State’s School of Nursing graduate program, has three children in the district. She ran for the school board in 2015.
“Even though we didn’t have a lot on the ballot today, it was still important to make a statement,” she said.
Penkalski said she learned about each candidate through mailers and public discussion. She did not disclose names but said she voted for the two candidates that she believes will prioritize students.
“I think just keeping the kids at the heart of the issues, making sure that we do what’s best for the children and the kids of Springfield (is important),” Penkalski said. “Keep the school safe and give them the education they need.”
Janet Wicks, bookstore invoicing specialist and Clinique coordinator, voted at Missouri State and proudly wore an “I Voted” sticker.
She researched candidates by reading media coverage and talking to educators in the school system.
“I wanted someone who has the best interest of both the students and teachers, getting back to some basic education,” Wicks said.
Lexi Cermak, a 23-year-old parent of a young student, voted at Crossway Church. She supported Taylor, saying he’d “done a good job on the board” and VanAntwerp because Cermak does not want “a school board of just white men.”
Most important to her is the issue of book banning, which she believes Makoski and Byrne support.
“It’s really important to be able to choose what they read. Book banning is not OK,” she said. “The folks supporting the not-liberal candidates were posting on social media about which books they’d like to ban.”
Cermak also wants to ensure there remains a separation of church and state within the schools.
“There’s a lot of people going out and voting based on what their church is telling them to vote so I wanted to basically cancel them out,” she said.
With a kindergartner and three other children under the age of six, Kimberlee Nevins’ family made the decision to send their children to public school rather than a private school or homeschool.
“This is one way I get to have my voice heard and just to choose,” Nevins said outside of Second Baptist Church. “There’s a lot of hot topics right now, I guess, just being politically correct. I definitely lean one way, so I wanted to vote for the people that I think would uphold what I believe in.”
The lifelong Springfield resident doesn’t really watch TV but did receive mailers on the candidates. After searching online and speaking with other people, she decided to vote for Byrne and Makoski.
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“I think that they’ll just have the best interest for teachers (and) the best support,” Nevins said. “I talked to a lot of teachers who were excited about them and, honestly, they’re the ones that are the most affected.”
Sarah Jean Baker, an assistant professor of childhood education and family studies at Missouri State, has four children in the Springfield Public Schools system. She voted for Taylor and Van Antwerp.
“I voted for Charles and Brandi because they understand and have a perspective of what all students and families need in our community,” Baker said. “The school district serves everybody in the public, and it’s really important to have people who value and appreciate different perspectives.”
She said VanAntwerp’s viewpoint as a woman and mother also solidified her vote.
“Brandi is also a mom with kids in the district, and that’s really important to me, too, because as women, we have different challenges; we experience life differently,” Baker said. “I’m excited to have her perspective on the board (if she’s voted in). She also has foster kids, so she’s working with another system within the system of public education too.”
Baker said she was leaning toward the two candidates but the endorsement of Taylor and VanAntwerp by the Springfield National Education Association proved important.
“I’d say the SNEA got the endorsements right,” she said. “I was happy to see the SNEA endorsed the candidates who are pro-public education.”
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.