Shurita Thomas-Tate celebrates her victory in the school board race on April 4, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Voters were given four choices to fill two Springfield Public Schools Board of Education seats. It came down to a decision between two who touted their education experience and two who said they would bring value to the board as district outsiders.

The voters have backed the educators.

Judy Brunner, a retired principal and school district administrator, has topped all vote-getters, with about 28 percent of the vote. In second is current board member Shurita Thomas-Tate with 24.8 percent of the vote.

“We are claiming victory,” Thomas-Tate told the Springfield Daily Citizen after the third round of vote totals was reported. When final unofficial results came in, Thomas-Tate clung to a 274-vote lead over Landon McCarter, with Chad Rollins finishing fourth.

“Thank you, Springfield!” Thomas-Tate posted on her campaign Facebook page. “I promise EVERY child counts!!!”

Brunner led the race through each round of precinct reports. She told the Daily Citizen she is ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work in her latest role with the district.

“I think tonight is a big win for public education,” Brunner said. “The Springfield voters recognize my message of safe schools, engaging families and supporting educators. It is exactly what they want in R-XII (the Springfield school district). And I agree with them 100 percent.”

Neither McCarter nor Rollins answered calls from the Daily Citizen late Tuesday night.

“Lost by 274 votes,” McCarter wrote on his campaign Facebook page. “I will have more to say at a later time. I’m exhausted. Going to bed. Thank you for all the support. I’m really sad for our schools.”

With 57 of 57 precincts reportingVotesPct.
Landon McCarter12,86924.27%
Shurita Thomas-Tate (incumbent)13,14324.79%
Judy Brunner15,05528.39%
Chad Rollins11,87722.40%
Springfield Public Schools board candidate Judy Brunner, center, talks with son Matt, right, and friend/advisor Bradley Cooper while awaiting election results on April 4, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Brunner, a former SPS principal and administrator, was the front-runner in terms of campaign donations, reporting $85,000 in total contributions so far. Brunner touted not only her experience working as a principal at several buildings across the district’s wide span, but also her efforts in the business community. Brunner and former SPS director of security Dennis Lewis in 1999 centered around developing and sharing best practices for addressing school safety and bullying.

After coming out of retirement to serve as a co-interim principal at Central High School during the pandemic and then work in the administrative office as a liaison to district parents after it, Brunner said the time was right for her to seek to help serve and govern SPS in a board seat.

“Every experience I’ve ever had has prepared me for this next step,” she told the Daily Citizen in February. “It has, and I’m ready for it and it would be my privilege to be on the Springfield Public Schools school board.”

YouTube video
Shurita Thomas-Tate celebrates her re-election to the Springfield school board. (Video by Jym Wilson)

As an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Thomas-Tate is an educator of educators who founded Ujima Family Literacy, a Springfield nonprofit which offers literacy and language experiences for children up to 11 years of age.

Thomas-Tate joined the school board in 2020 in an election cycle where she and Denise Fredrick were the only two candidates who completed the paperwork needed to run for two open seats. During this competitive cycle, Thomas-Tate raised the second-most money — nearly $56,000 — for her campaign as of March 27, when the final pre-election reports were filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

She said she sought re-election because she believes in the power of public education.

“Public education has the potential to transform student lives and whole communities,” she told the Daily Citizen during the campaign cycle. “Public education has the potential to really be a transformative tool for our community, both in a positive and negative way. And so when we spin the narrative of public education as being bad, it disrupts the health of a community. And a healthy public school system is going to end up with a healthier community, and an unhealthy public school system also equates to an unhealthy community.”

Thomas-Tate was the main subject of the lone attack ad to air on local TV. The ad pointed to two examples of what the narrator claims to show her anti-American values. It was a claim Thomas-Tate denied.

“I am not anti-American,” she told the Daily Citizen in early February. “I am very grateful to be a part of this country. I have family members who have served this country. I have family members who have served this country when this country didn’t even see them as full human, or full citizens, of this country — my grandfather, who fought before the Civil Rights Act, for this country.”

McCarter is a Kickapoo High School graduate, an entrepreneur and co-founder of Secure Agent Marketing. Rollins is a pharmacist and fitness enthusiast. The two candidates were paired together on campaign mailers and electronic billboards. The right-leaning PAC Back on Track America sent out mailers in support of McCarter and Rollins, encouraging people to vote for “two strong leaders who will partner with Dr. Maryam (Mohammadkhani), Steve (Makoski), and Kelly (Byrne) to continue the restoration of quality education, to bring order back to SPS classrooms, and to advocate for teachers.” The same mailer encouraged voters to reject the “two ‘experienced’ defenders of the failing status quo.”

Brunner and Thomas-Tate, however, touted their educational experience during their respective campaigns.

Pending certification, Brunner and Thomas-Tate will be sworn in April 11 to serve three-year terms on the board. At that meeting, the board will re-organize and a new president and vice president will be chosen. Incumbent Board President Denise Fredrick chose not to seek re-election.

The current vice president is Scott Crise, who took over the role in February after a fiery meeting in which four members of the board — Crise, Fredrick, Danielle Kincaid and Thomas-Tate — voted to remove Mohammadkhani from the role following an incident at a seminar attended by SPS high school students. Byrne and Makoski voted along with Mohammadkhani in opposition to the decision. McCarter and Rollins both said they would have sided with the three, while Brunner did not weigh in on the issue. It was one of several recent 4-3 board votes.

The board sets district policies and budgets, and hires and evaluates the superintendent, who is their only employee. Superintendent Grenita Lathan is in her second year and the board in January unanimously approved an extension of her contract through 2025-26 school year.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson