A bill making its way through the Missouri House would fundamentally change the representation on the school board for Springfield Public Schools.
House Bill 2591 would mandate that school board candidates come from various parts of the city. It would create two at-large districts—one in north Springfield and the other covering south Springfield—and five subdistricts.
Currently, all board member positions are at-large, meaning candidates can live in any part of the district, according to the SPS website. None of the current board members lives in north Springfield.
The sponsor of the bill is Rep. Craig Fishel of Springfield. The bill has been assigned to the House Local Government Committee, where Fishel is the vice-chair.
Fishel said he discovered a need for more diverse representation when he served on Springfield City Council and saw anti-poverty initiatives aimed at economically depressed parts of north Springfield.
Students would best benefit from school board members who are familiar with their neighborhood issues, Fishel said.
"To me, it's obvious. If you're not represented, you don't have much say-so in what happens to your neighborhood school. You don't have control of the curriculum. You don't have any say-so in the curriculum. And I know our school board has tried to represent the entire community. And that's not the feedback I have received," Fishel said.
He says he's received positive feedback on the bill from Springfield neighborhood associations, the NAACP and teachers' groups.
SPS Board president Tim Rosenbury said he agrees with the goal of diversifying the school board, but says this bill is not the best way to achieve that. He fears it could lead to a more divided Springfield.
"I don't think it would be better if each geographic area had to fight for their own interests, and at times, would have to fight against the interests of other geographic areas," Rosenbury said.
Rosenbury said a better solution would be to engage PTAs, booster clubs, and civic groups to encourage broader participation in school board elections.
According to the language of the bill, current board members would be allowed to file as candidates for the at-large district or a subdistrict in which the member lives. H.B. 2591 would also reduce the number of signatures required for candidates to run from 500 to 100.
You can read the language of the original bill by clicking here.
The original draft, Fishel said, would have imposed term limits on board members, but based on feedback from the community, he plans to draft a substitute bill removing the reference to term limits.
"I'm trying to make this a community-involved decision. If I went to Springfield and I had everybody look at me like, 'You're crazy, don't do it,' I'm done. I wouldn't do anything. But it's been just the opposite. It's been total, unbelievable, 'Wow, this is a good idea. Let's do it,'" Fishel said.
Fishel told KSMU he's eager to hear more feedback from Springfield residents.
His email is email@example.com and his Jefferson City office number is (573) 751-0232.