Shurita Thomas-Tate said her plan as a Springfield Public Schools board member was never to bow out after serving her first term in office. When asked this week, she confirmed she will seek re-election this April.
“My plan is to definitely run,” she said.
Thomas-Tate joined the board after she and current board president Denise Fredrick ran unopposed in 2020. Fredrick on Thursday said she was still weighing the decision to seek a fifth term for office. Fredrick, a retired SPS science teacher who now works as an education consultant, said she would make a final decision next month.
The election in 2020 was the last time any candidates for the office ran unopposed. Seven candidates ran for three open seats in 2021, and five candidates ran for two open seats in 2022. In each election cycle, the lone incumbent seeking office was voted off the board. Both elections also featured endorsements and attack ads from Truth in Politics, a Springfield nonprofit group that last cycle supported eventual winners Kelly Byrne and Steve Makoski and accused incumbent Charles Taylor of hijacking board meetings to espouse Critical Race Theory.
Recently, founding member Royce Reding said during a radio interview with Makoski that the group’s work is not done, according to a Springfield News-Leader story about the show. Reding also said the group used “a little bit of hyperbole” to get its point across in the TV ad targeting Taylor, and Makoski said he did not know if Fredrick or Thomas-Tate would seek re-election “or just bow out and come off the board,” according to the News-Leader.
“I’m ready to run,” Thomas-Tate said. “I’m ready to engage in a way that demonstrates to the folks in Springfield that I am committed to this process, and I am committed to them. And I’m willing to take on what we know will be attacks on my character, my identity, my words, my values. I’m willing to take all that on because I do care that much about our public education here in Springfield and how that supports our community.”
Want to run for school board? Important dates and details (Click to expand)
The process to file as a candidate will begin this year on Nov. 1, when the declaration of nomination and petition forms will be available to pick up during regular hours at the district office, 1359 East St. Louis.
Prospective candidates must turn in at least 500 certifiable signatures of registered voters who support their candidacy. The first day to turn in signatures will be Dec. 6, and the deadline is Dec. 27. Certification day is Jan. 24.
Candidates who turn in their completed forms on the first day will be entered into a lottery to determine the order their names appear on the ballot if their petitions are certified. Anyone who turns in forms after Dec. 6 will be listed on the ballot in the chronological order of when their forms were received.
SPS will release updated information about the 2023 board election cycle process later this month. Eligibility rules remain the same as stated in this October 2021 news release.
Thomas-Tate says career in education led her to seek seat
Along with Makoski and Scott Crise, Thomas-Tate served as a school board liaison for a group of Springfield citizens who spent the past three months visiting some of the district’s poorest-rated school buildings. It was part of a process to decide which ones should be replaced or rebuilt first. The group on Tuesday night prioritized four of them, along with millions in district-wide safety efforts, while recommending that a $220 million bond issue be put before voters on the April ballot.
The board will have the final say in the matter.
Thomas-Tate said contributing to the process of such high-level decisions that are beneficial to the district’s citizens, students, teachers and parents is why board service is important to her.
Thomas-Tate, an associate professor in Missouri State University’s communications sciences, lost in her first attempt to be elected to the board in 2019. She said she first decided to run for a school board seat because of her commitment to education.
“I’m an educator,” she said. “I work in higher ed, but I have worked and served in K-12. And I also currently as a professor work to help develop speech-language pathologists/therapists who will be working in a K-12 setting. I volunteer in the community with kids. Literacy is my heart and my passion. I believe in public education, and I feel like the health of our city is very much tied to the health of our school district. And I felt like I had something to contribute to that end.”
A rocky experience in first term
She said the experience during her first term has at times been a “rocky” one.
In August, anonymous board member responses to questions asked by a consultant were shared during a meeting at the start of the process to update the district’s strategic plan. One board member cited election season partisanship among the nonpartisan board’s weaknesses. Micromanaging and distrust were also mentioned in anonymous responses. Later that month, Thomas-Tate questioned why the district’s contract with SAAB, formerly known as the Student African American Brotherhood, was being singled out for further examination. In September, Thomas-Tate spoke out during a meeting about the decision to ban Pride flags in Kickapoo High School classrooms.
“I’m not completely sure why now this new interpretation or the way that we’re responding has changed, other than to think of it as being a direct response to political agendas,” Thomas-Tate said then. “This move saddens me because I truly, truly believe that representation matters. We know that students who are seen and supported and heard and feel safe — they do perform better in school.”
Thomas-Tate said she anticipates ads like the one accusing Taylor of hijacking meetings will be aimed at her.
“It was a nasty, nasty smear attack where they were straight out lying,” she said. “And I know that’s coming. That has already come. That has been a part of the past, the present and I’m sure the future.”