Select Candidate Responses from the February 22nd Mayoral Forum at the Sheldon
On February 22nd, 2017, CBN partnered with nine regional initiatives to host a two-hour mayoral forum at the Sheldon. Transcribed here are select responses to forum questions that are especially relevant for those involved in community development work.
“Lightning Round” Questions
How will you vote on the ½ cent sales tax increase for economic development?
Antonio French: Yes, but keeping in mind that all of that money will not go to a MetroLink.
Jeffrey Boyd: Yes, but I do think we should also redistribute the proportions that we’re considering for MetroLink to neighborhoods.
Andrew Jones: No. Poor people can’t afford it.
Lyda Krewson: Yes, but don’t be mistaken: the amount of money that is allocated to MetroLink is not going to be enough to do the match for MetroLink and build North-South, which we need to do.
Tishaura Jones: No. I think we need to go back to the drawing board and come up with another proposal.
Lewis Reed: Yes, absolutely—because we need a North-South MetroLink, and we need it to grow.
Public funding for a major-league soccer stadium?
Antonio French: No.
Jeffrey Boyd: I don’t have enough data. I want to make sure that it actually creates jobs and brings revenue to the City—gives pay raises, delivers City services more effectively. And is it part of our overall strategic plan?
Andrew Jones: MLS soccer has not turned a profit in 21 years of its existence. It should have never gone past the first person’s desk. No.
Lyda Krewson: I think it’d be great to have MLS soccer, but I don’t think the City ought to own the soccer stadium.
Tishaura Jones: No. We have 99 problems and soccer ain’t one.
Lewis Reed: We have 99 problems and soccer ain’t one.
New restrictions on payday lenders: will you vote yes or no?
Antonio French: I’m going to vote no on that one, and I’ll tell you why. I don’t think it’s fair that we make that business ten times more expensive than liquor stores and real nuisance businesses in our neighborhoods. So I think that’s too high.
Jeffrey Boyd: Yes. They are predatory lenders.
Andrew Jones: No. Free market: they have an opportunity to conduct business.
Lyda Krewson: Yes. I think we have way too many payday lenders. I don’t really like the $5,000 fee for a payday lender, because I wonder where that goes next. Does it next go to a business that you don’t like? But I will vote for it.
Tishaura Jones: Absolutely. We need to get rid of payday lenders.
Lewis Reed: Absolutely. But I think we’re going to be challenged. We may lose in court because of what Mr. French said over there.
Consolidating the Recorder of Deeds and Assessor’s Office and using the savings for police body cameras. How will you vote?
Antonio French: No. I think it’s completely dishonest to say that this is about body cameras. This is a political attempt to eliminate the office. We need body cameras, but that is not enough to pay for it. So people have been conned into doing that.
Jeffrey Boyd: Absolutely no. I think it’s a fraud. I reject the fact that a state legislator like Senator Jamilah Nasheed gets on board and dictates to us what we should do instead of coming to talk to us about how we should govern ourselves.
Andrew Jones: No. And if we were taking care of our fiduciary responsibilities, we would have had the money to pay for the cameras.
Lyda Krewson: No, although I think both of those are good subjects to really, seriously consider. They’re not related, and they shouldn’t be in the same question.
Tishaura Jones: No.
Lewis Reed: Absolutely not, because it does not cover the cost of body cameras. It’s a ruse.
From bicycle lanes to MetroLink expansion, and from trails to sidewalks, many transportation projects are discussed in the city. As mayor, what is the most important transportation initiative other than MetroLink expansion that you would pursue?
Antonio French: Better bus transportation. Most people use buses. So bus transportation needs to improve in the City of St. Louis.
Jeffrey Boyd: I would also say bus transportation. I think Metro should come with express service so that people can not take an hour and 45 minutes to get from St. Louis City to St. Louis County.
Andrew Jones: I think the highest ridership is in North St. Louis. I think if we can make sure that we have the adequate buses, the state-of-the-art buses, I think that’s our primary focus. That’s the reason I’m not for MetroLink expansion.
Lyda Krewson: Better bus service, more frequent bus service. Also—simple things: syncing the traffic lights, considering eliminating some of the one-way streets. Using some professional planning, traffic planning services.
Tishaura Jones: I agree with everything that’s been said about expanding bus services.
Lewis Reed: Expanding bus services, number one. But we also need to take a look at what we can do to be more renewable in the city. I think we should look at a car-share program. We have that downtown. I also think we should look at a bike-share program.
On development projects that receive City support, should developers who fail to meet minority participation requirements be financially penalized?
Antonio French: Yes, and I’ve introduced legislation to do just that.
Jeffrey Boyd: I think absolutely, over a certain dollar amount. We couldn’t do that with people that are just doing two houses.
Andrew Jones: I think we should not discriminate across the board.
Lyda Krewson: Yes, absolutely. There ought to be clawback provisions for any incentives if the developer doesn’t meet the terms of the redevelopment plan. And that would include the minority participation goals.
Tishaura Jones: Yes, absolutely. We should hold developers accountable when they don’t meet those goals.
Lewis Reed: Absolutely. We should treat it as a breach of contract.
Should the City spend about $100 million over the next 30 years to upgrade the Scottrade Center?
Antonio French: No.
Jeffrey Boyd: I’m not convinced it’s a good deal.
Andrew Jones: Ditto.
Lyda Krewson: I voted against that at the Board of Aldermen.
Tishaura Jones: No.
Lewis Reed: Yes. If we’re talking about creating jobs and economic activity, we have to invest, especially in our own property. We own the building. We can shutter it or fix it.
Select Questions from Round 2 and Round 3
This goes to the four members of the Board of Aldermen. In the spring, voters will decide whether or not they want to use public funds to build a major league soccer stadium, and part of the stadium’s funding source dips from the same tax revenue used to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Affordable housing advocates say that if the stadium initiative passes, there is no chance that the funding for affordable housing will increase or even be funded at its minimum level of $5 million annually. So for the four aldermen: please explain why you voted for or against the Board Bill that established the funding structure for the stadium, and how will your decision impact affordable housing opportunities?
Jeffrey Boyd: Boy, that’s a good question. I don’t remember that finance package affecting affordable housing. If that got by me, I absolutely oppose that. For too long, for many years, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund has been shortened by the current administration. I believe we’re $2 million in the hole based on what they extracted from it by not funding it fully at $5 million. So if that’s part of the deal, I would absolutely be opposed to that particular bill. But that was not part of my understanding, that it would negatively impact the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Lyda Krewson: It does not need to negatively impact the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Frankly, the use tax, which is the source of revenue that this is coming from, has plenty of money in it to fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. We have been using it for other things. But this new piece of use tax is unrelated to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. We ought to fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and frankly, we ought to spend all the money every year that we budget there, because we don’t do that.
Antonio French: I voted no, because I was fully aware that the money that the stadium would be using would normally go towards the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, demolition of vacant buildings, and the police department. And so it is a slap in the face for people who need better housing in the city, who rely on the Housing Trust Fund that we have not fully funded—and we’re going to take that money and give it to millionaires to build a soccer stadium at the same time we are closing a homeless shelter downtown. It makes no sense to me. I think it’s immoral, and we need to get our priorities straight down in City Hall.
Lewis Reed: It will not dip into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The way the funding structure is set up there, like Alderwoman Krewson stated a little bit earlier, we have enough money in the fund to fully fund it. So it does not impact the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Just to be clear, can you raise your hand if you voted to put the stadium measure on the ballot?
[Jeffrey Boyd, Lyda Krewson, and Lewis Reed raise their hands.]
And raise your hand if you didn’t.
[Antonio French raises his hand.]
I’d like to get the other two candidates’ say on this entire stadium situation.
Tishaura Jones: I have been consistently against using public funding for stadiums, and if I were on the Board, I would have voted no.
Andrew Jones: Well, previously I mentioned that the MLS has not turned a profit. They utilize cities to get funds and raise capital. They did that. I sit on the Economic Development Commission for the City of Edwardsville and other commissions. And they tried it at the City of Edwardsville eight years ago. If the project doesn’t work, if it doesn’t pass muster with conventional financing, the economic development policy should be to pass it on and tell them to get their financing together. The project doesn’t make any sense, but we’re entertaining this stuff. And then we’re saying we’re broke.
If you look at tax incentives through a racial equity lens, the barometer for success is whether or not these incentives have created a more inclusive and equitable city. Please critique yourselves on the tax incentive projects that you have been involved in or publicly supported or opposed. For aldermen, please talk about the board bills that you have written for TIFs and tax abatements. Again, the barometer is whether or not the incentives have encouraged gentrification and a stronger divide between the haves and have-nots.
Jeffrey Boyd: I am proud of my use in my community with tax abatement, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and historic tax credits on a state and federal level. We did a $34 million housing project in my neighborhood to bring affordable housing against all odds. I was told that it would never be done for 15 or 20 years. But we bundled these tax incentives together to create a $34 million housing development that has 112 new residential units and 7,500 square feet of commercial space between Martin Luther King, Cote Brilliante, Clara, and Burd Avenue. And we saved Arlington School that had been vacated since 1993. It was pigeon-infested and had drug activity and all kinds of illegal activity going on. They begged me to tear that building down, but I resisted, because I had hope and a vision that one day a developer would come and rehabilitate that school. And we have 22 loft apartments in that school as a model of what they’ve done in the Central West End and in the southern parts of the City of St. Louis. I am so proud of my use of tax incentives on that project. It gave us great hope in the 22nd Ward and one of the most distressed neighborhoods in our city.
Tishaura Jones: As I said before, we’ve given away over $700 million in TIFs and tax abatements over the last 15 years. I often say that we give it out like Halloween candy. And 85 percent of that went to the Central West End and Downtown, and it’s absolutely led to gentrification of those neighborhoods—because thousands of African-Americans have moved out of those areas and can no longer afford to live in those areas. So going forward, I would support having a citywide plan with community input and attaching community benefit agreements to all large developments so we can make sure that we’re getting a return on our investments for any future developments that take our tax dollars, or when we use tax incentives for those developments. As Treasurer, I have publicly opposed the stadium—all of the stadiums, actually, for the last four years that I’ve been a local elected official.
Antonio French: The largest TIF the City has ever done is this Paul McKee TIF. I’m the only alderman up here who voted against that, primarily because of how that community was treated. So I don’t understand how you can say you view things through a racial equity lens when you support legislation like that, or take money from Paul McKee. What he’s done in that community is a shame. That is development that is destructive, that moves people out, like much of the development that we’ve seen in the Central Corridor and some other areas. We might have seen these areas come up, but what happened to those poor people that used to live there? They don’t live there anymore. They’ve been pushed out. So the kind of development that we have to have in this city is one that includes the people who live in those areas right now, and brings more people in. We need more diverse communities—not just racially diverse, but also economically and class-diverse communities. Too often we think that bringing an area up means pushing people out. I don’t support that.
Lyda Krewson: Tax incentives, whether it’s a TIF or tax abatement, is about half art and about half science. And our objective should be to give the developer as little incentive as possible without killing the project. Because if we kill the project—if the project does not happen—we don’t have those jobs, and we don’t have the development. I want to cite just a couple of projects: The Loop, for example. Fifteen years ago, there was no Pageant; there was no Moonrise Hotel; there was no Pinup Bowl; there was nothing in the Loop. That did have an incentive: ten years of tax abatement. They’re all paying taxes now. It did not displace anyone, because there was no one there. There were no businesses there; there was no one living there. Olive is another great example. So if you think about Olive—the 4300, 4400, 4500 blocks of Olive—there was no one living there 15 years ago. Those were projects that were tax abated. That would be the Field School, the Lister Building, 4448 Olive. There were no people displaced there, because it was all vacant, boarded up, with some ceilings and roofs falling in. And so I think that was a very good use of tax abatement in both of those locations.
I just wanted to follow up with a couple of the tax abatements that you have, in your past—some of them were just for individual homes. Do you feel that at all causes gentrification? Or what are the impacts of just having the tax abatement on an individual home that’s in a well-to-do area?
Lyda Krewson: Yeah, I actually don’t think I have tax abated an individual home in the 28th Ward. I’d have to think back over 19 years. But that would be a very rare situation. It would have to be a house—I can think of one house now: the back was off of the house; the garage had fallen down. There are exceptions to this. And I tell you what: if you live on a block with vacant properties, there is nothing worse than having vacant homes unoccupied on your block. So nothing good happens in a vacant building. But by and large, the tax abatement that has been used has been used because the property was vacant, and no one was displaced as a result of it.
Lewis Reed: As Alderman of the 6th Ward, I had an opportunity to use tax incentives to rebuild areas like the Gate District. I don’t know if any of you live in the Gate District, but it made a big difference in that area. And one of the things that we did when we went into the area—you can choose to do development with a neighborhood or to a neighborhood. And we chose to do development with the neighborhood. What that meant was that as we came down the block, we worked with individual homeowners who had lived in their homes forever, and made sure that they could take part in the coming up of the area. And it allowed them to stay in their home, and then gain the additional value from their home because we have rebuilt the entire neighborhood. So what the Gate District looks like now is one of the most integrated neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis. We have people of all races, nationalities; we have people of all income groups all living in the Gate District together. And it has been a huge success. We could do that all over the city.
Andrew Jones: Well, again, I’m not a politician, but I am an economic development practitioner for multiple cities in Southern Illinois. I think what we’re doing here—we’re mixing tax abatements and TIFs as if they’re one unified policy. There’s a policy for residential application; there’s some merit there. But you’re looking at science—probably 99 percent of it, where you’re dealing with commercial and industrial. Smaller cities that I sit on the economic development commissions and boards with—we do not lead with any tax incentives. We do not have the intermodal properties that the City of St. Louis has: phenomenal infrastructure, a lot of things to attract businesses that want to make money. These cities don’t lead with it. Most practitioners in the best practices don’t lead with incentives. That is a last resort. We want to make sure by doing qualitative analysis that these projects, these initiatives, pass the muster of financial analysis. If they don’t, they should be round filed in the first trash can that you can see. And the city that is financially strapped like the City of St. Louis—we should not lead with financial instruments to attract them here. We have enough to attract them if we clean up the crime.
A fourth of African-American families in the city spend more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing. The need for affordable housing in the city is therefore overwhelming. As mayor, if you become mayor, how will you address the issue of affordable housing in the city?
Lewis Reed: Well, the first thing we have to do is establish development zones. Take a look at all the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) property that the City owns, take a look at our carrying costs, and roll those carrying costs up into a first-time homeowners’ program. When we establish these development zones within our city, we can work to bring renters in, and we can work to bring new homeowners into these development areas, and make sure that there are housing options available from the lowest all the way up to the highest in housing. I think that’s how we begin to make sure that we have areas that are integrated across the City of St. Louis, and we take care of affordable housing all at the same time. One of the things that we cannot do is repeat the problems of the past by continuing to warehouse poor people all within the same area. I think that that’s a problem. But if we do it in a cohesive and a planned manner, we can make a big difference in the lives of people.
Andrew Jones: Again: I’m not a politician, but again, I work in those areas, working with community development corporations in Southern Illinois. What you’re trying to do in that particular region—you’re trying to integrate different stratas of income, class, and things of that nature. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does work, it’s because you have a comprehensive plan. And what I need to know and see is the comprehensive plan for community development for the City of St. Louis. Every city that I work with has a comprehensive plan that they stick to to the letter, and they know what fits their particular community. I don’t know if we know what fits our community in trying to get people to move and get into areas where there is affordable housing. It is critical to have affordable housing. But you have to have the right strategic plan so you can have the right mix in order for it to work.
Lyda Krewson: I think certainly there is a need for more high-quality affordable housing in the City of St. Louis—and, frankly, in our region. So we would need to spend more funds on that. There are funds allocated every year to affordable housing that are actually not spent. If you look back historically, the way affordable housing happened during the turn of the century—the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s—it was integrated housing. Mixed-use housing works the best. We don’t need to have all affordable housing in one area. Affordable housing should be mixed into all neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis. That’s the way it was originally developed, and it should be continued to be developed there. There are 25,000 vacant properties in the City of St. Louis. About half of them are owned by LRA. About 7,000 or 8,000 of those are buildings. We’ve got to figure out how to get people back into those LRA buildings that can be rehabbed—perhaps work with the community development housing corporations that already exist, and neighbors and small developers.
Jeffrey Boyd: Over 25 years ago, my wife and I moved to our distressed neighborhood, and we transformed a four-family flat into a three-family because we were concerned about providing affordable housing for people. So for over 25 years, we’ve been providing affordable housing, and as landlords, we have never increased the rent. And we’ve had tenants as long as 10 and 15 years. But in the City of St. Louis, with thousands and thousands of vacant lots, there’s a great opportunity for us. There’s a great opportunity for us to transform all of our distressed neighborhoods, north and south. We need to package all of these LRA vacant lots and buildings and give developers a chance to bid on them and create mixed-used developments throughout the City of St. Louis. The City of St. Louis has been doing development so backwards. What we do is we wait for developers to hand us a proposal and decide whether we’ll fund it or not. We need to stop doing that. We need to plan our own development for our own success in our communities, and we have to include affordable housing as well as other mixed-income uses. And homeless has to be part of that conversation. So I have a plan I’ve been talking about for all of my campaign, and I look forward to implementing it.
Tishaura Jones: I’m not afraid to say that I agree with a Republican. Mr. Jones was right when he said we don’t have a comprehensive citywide plan for development, and that’s exactly what we need. And it needs to include inclusionary zoning for affordable housing. I would include that on new projects, like the tower that’s going up on Kingshighway and West Pine—that would be nice if there was some affordable housing there. We need to rebuild the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and make sure that we can use those funds as creatively as we can to help small developers. Also: include community benefit agreements in new developments, stop focusing on large developers, and help our small developers get access to properties so they can rebuild and rehab homes.
Antonio French: So the first the thing we need to do is fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and as mayor, I pledge that we will fully fund that every year. That has to happen. The second thing is when we give large incentives to developments in the nicer parts of town, the more affluent parts of town, we need to require that it has a certain percentage of affordable units so people can have economic diversity in these areas as we rebuild our city. And lastly, when it comes to LRA buildings, we need to make sure that we are getting these buildings off of our rolls and back into the hands of people who want to rehab these houses and live in them. And if that means giving it to them for $1.00 and also giving them some grants to help them do it, then that’s what we need to do. Because we need to get these buildings back occupied and off our rolls.
Forward through Ferguson and For The Sake Of All have called for policies that force developers to include low- and moderate-income housing within development projects with public funds. As mayor, would you move the city toward an inclusionary zoning policy that encourages or requires mixed-income neighborhoods? Why or why not?
Andrew Jones: Well, I think this is a no-brainer. I certainly want to give people an opportunity. You want them to be able to lift themselves up, to be a part of a community where they can benefit just like everyone else within that community. And certainly, when I become mayor, I certainly will look at implementing that type of philosophy, because again—everyone should have an opportunity. I look at it through a human lens, and if we can get people opportunity to move in a particular area and take advantage of all the benefits that come from a growing, vibrant area, they should not be not permitted.
Lyda Krewson: Absolutely. I think that goes to the way I answered the last question, which is that affordable housing ought to be in every neighborhood. All neighborhoods should be mixed-income. Mine as well. And there actually is affordable housing in my neighborhood. I think it’s critical to do that. And I would certainly fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and cause that to be a mixed-use neighborhood.
Antonio French: The answer is yes, but I tell you, the problem with the current process is that it is completely developer-driven. The City does not have a strategy, a plan, for what we want to do with this city and how we want to build our neighborhoods. And so what we do is we wait for developers to present these plans, and it often follows campaign contributions as well—that’s where the incentives go. So what we need is a strategy for the entire city to make sure that we are growing our city for the first time in a very long time, and doing so in a way that makes it economically, racially, and class-diverse.
Jeffrey Boyd: I think Alderman French just kind of talked about what I wanted to do. I just said it in my past remarks. I think the City of St. Louis needs to take a comprehensive approach to the whole city, look at how we allocate incentives, and find all the opportunities to provide affordable housing and mixed-income housing.
Tishaura Jones: I believe I answered this in my last response. Absolutely. I would include inclusionary zoning in every new project to make sure that we have mixed-income housing and affordable housing in new developments.
Lewis Reed: Absolutely. And I’d also issue an executive order to make sure that each and every department understands that that is the will of that office.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently ranked generational poverty, meaning families in poverty for at least two generations, as the greatest issue affecting low- to moderate-income households. What is your plan to address the growing concern? Which City resources would you leverage to address the issue?
Lyda Krewson: I think that most all of us know that generational poverty is a very, very serious issue, not just in the City of St. Louis, but in our country. Education, frankly, is the starting point to breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Congratulations to St. Louis Public Schools—three or four weeks ago, they were fully accredited. It does start with education. And then, frankly, it starts with opportunities for all to have a good job. There are very few things that a good job won’t cure. So we need to prepare people to have and obtain those jobs.
Lewis Reed: Absolutely. You know, if we’re not creating jobs and opportunities for people throughout our community, we should not be surprised at the end of the year when we come back and we see our murder rate still at 188. But if we begin to reconnect people to our community and begin to create jobs and opportunities for them so that they can move into new careers, we can see a mass change across our city. So I absolutely would support.
Andrew Jones: Well, again, I think if you remember earlier, I talked about how jobs cure just about every ill that we have in society. When you look at workforce development—and I do sit on a workforce development board for Bond County, Fayette County, and Madison County in Illinois—you’re looking at jobs that are not being fulfilled because people don’t have the skill sets, and they’re not attending the trade schools—things of that nature. We have to get people trained to be able to take on these career-wage jobs that are available. We have to do this. Therefore, I am absolutely for building initiatives, having private partnerships as well with the City, so that we can get people in positions so that they can take advantage of it—so we won’t have to talk about minimum wages. We can talk about career wages, and people can be full participants within the system, because if they do that, they will flourish and take off. And the last thing, since I have a little bit of time: when they talk about households, because I look at numbers all day long, that is a static picture, when you take a household at a notice. But I think we should look at some of the IRS numbers, and you will see that people are doing a whole lot better than what they report.
Antonio French: I think it starts with two things: education and jobs. Education is key. Now, I know what it’s like to be poor. I grew up in a single-parent household. When my mom passed away, I moved in with my grandma, and we were still poor. And my mom and my grandmother always told me that the way to success was through education. I’ve reached the highest level of education of anybody ever in my family: I’ve got my MBA and my bachelor’s degree. And now I have opportunity. And that’s what we have to give every kid. The largest group of poor people in the City of St. Louis are children. And so if we don’t start making sure we give them the tools to be successful in life, they will continue that cycle. Now, also related is jobs. For the folks that are already adults, 18 and older, we have to make sure that they have jobs. Now, the truth is that 20 percent of our adult population in the City of St. Louis doesn’t even have a high school diploma. So we have to make sure we are getting them skills to be able to get better jobs, and also currently put them in positions where they can get jobs right now. That, to me, means investing in small businesses. Because it’s the small businesses located in neighborhoods that are more likely to give them a shot. And so as part of my crime plan, actually, it involves investing in small businesses in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Tishaura Jones: The City of St. Louis still continues to suffer from the legacy of Jim Crow. And as a result, we have a huge gap between haves and have-nots. The median wealth of a white family is $134,000—versus a black family is $11,000. And that’s why I’m so passionate about the work we’ve done in the Office of Financial Empowerment to help people make better decisions with their money. I also think that we need to expand our STL Youth Jobs Program to be a year-round jobs program, because that way it puts money into youth’s pockets, and helps them take of their family. And when we talk about education and jobs, we have to marry it with financial literacy, because a lot of us get our habits—good, bad, or indifferent—from our families. And we have to change that trajectory.
Jeffrey Boyd: Yes. As a young man growing up, I surely understand what poverty looks like. I often tell people I’m allergic to poverty, because I didn’t like it—I didn’t appreciate it. But I had a great-aunt that taught me the value of an education, and she told me, “If you get a good education, then you don’t have to live this lifestyle, and connect with resources.” So what I believe is that we have to work with our public schools and make sure we’re preparing our children for jobs of the future. And we need to work with our institutions of higher learning to make sure that adults that want to be retrained and young people graduating from high school are entering into our institutions of higher learning to get the educational experience that they need to take advantage of these jobs, like in the high-tech industry and cybersecurity. We also need to make sure that trainee opportunities through our SLATE program are available. I took an opportunity to go to the military to get training. It was a phenomenal opportunity for me. It made me a better adult. So I know the value of training and education. As mayor, I will make sure that our SLATE program is well-funded—where young people and people who want to change careers will have access to training opportunities so that they can have a better quality of life, and not have to be stuck in a cycle of poverty.
I want to be clear here that the Mayor of St. Louis does not have a lot of direct control over the education system, but they do have some things that they have to do, and they have the bully pulpit. One of the things that became very evident after Ferguson is our schools, especially in St. Louis and parts of St. Louis County, are still heavily segregated. And I want to know what each of you would do using the bully pulpit to convince more middle- and upper-class white residents—like myself—to send their children to St. Louis Public Schools.
Lewis Reed: Well, the first thing you have to do as the mayor is you have to believe in the product that you’re selling. So I think it’s important, as the mayor, that we position our school system appropriately. We talk about the great things that are happening within our system, we talk about the advantages of people sending their kids to our St. Louis Public School System. We continue to work to provide more funding for them by working with the state and trying to get more funding through DESE (Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). I know that’s a tough thing, but we have to approach it and try to get that done. I think we also need to understand what’s happening within the classrooms. You know, across the last ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with the rebirth of the St. Louis City Public Schools. And I’ve had an opportunity to really, truly understand what’s happening with the teachers and administrators. We have great staffing. And we have great kids going to our schools. And there are a lot of great success stories that we need to tell.
Lyda Krewson: As I said earlier, congratulations to St. Louis Public Schools. I think it is absolutely critical that the public schools continue to get better, because while we have the best high school in Missouri at Metro High School, the schools are also uneven. And not all of the schools are good enough. Every single decision that we make about education ought to be driven by what is best for the kids. I also happen to support charter schools because I think they are educating 10,000 kids in the City of St. Louis today, and many of them are doing a good job. And of course, our parochial schools. Our city would have much fewer people here today had it not been for the role the parochial schools have played over many years in our city, educating our kids. Every parent wants the best for their kid. And every educational decision ought to be about not what’s best for the administrators, not what’s best for the teachers’ union, not what’s best for any individual, but rather what’s best for the kids.
Tishaura Jones: As Treasurer, I started the College Kids Savings Account Program, which gives a college savings account to every kindergartner in a public school that’s district or charter. And we have a great partnership with district and charter schools. What I would do as mayor is continue that same partnership. Even though the mayor has no direct authority, that doesn’t mean that she can’t be a better partner. And then working with our school administrators to see what we can do to remove barriers to education for our children. For example, also in the Treasurer’s office, every year, we pick a school and do a community service project. We clean that school from top to bottom, work with the principal to see what he or she needs, and think about what our school system would look like if more of us developed those partnerships with our schools, no matter where our children are sent to school. So I think that we as a community need to develop better partnerships with our schools, no matter where we send our children.
Andrew Jones: Well, I think the problem can be fixed relatively simply by offering opportunities for choice. The biggest asset that most people have, their most sacred asset, are their children. And people hold onto and they cling to and they want the best opportunity for the enrichment and development of their child. If you have an opportunity to put your child in a school that fits them perfectly, whatever their needs may be, I think you should have an opportunity to enroll your child in that particular school. It’s very simple to me. School choice, market opportunities, and I think you will see that your children will flourish.
I have to follow up there. How will that make the St. Louis Public Schools better if lots of people are using school choice options not to go to the St. Louis Public Schools?
Andrew Jones: Well, school choice is what it is: a market opportunity. And again, when you’re talking about the City of St. Louis and its school systems, what you will find traditionally is that will force them to do a better job in training and educating their own children.
Jeffrey Boyd: Our school system suffers from the same perception that our city as a whole suffers from. Now, everyone who lives in the City of St. Louis doesn’t live in a bad neighborhood. All City of St. Louis schools are not bad schools. My wife and I made the conscious decision and choice to send our children to St. Louis Public Schools. I’m a proud product of St. Louis Public Schools. My son, my oldest daughter graduated from St. Louis Public Schools; my youngest daughter is a junior at Metro, one of the top-performing schools in the State of Missouri. My grandbaby attends Washington Montessori. If you want to change a system, you need to be part of the system. And as mayor, I want to be out in the schools, inspiring these young children, attending the rallies at school to motivate them to achieve academic excellence. We can change our schools around if we all, as adults, are willing to partner with our school system in a meaningful and impactful way that changes lives of our children. And as mayor, I will set the standard.
Antonio French: I think the first thing I would do is lead by example. I send my little boy to a St. Louis Public School, and I will continue to do that as mayor. I think it’s important to highlight that St. Louis Public Schools has many very high-performing schools. Now, you mentioned segregation in SLPS. One of the tragedies, though, is that the white students that go to St. Louis Public Schools are more likely to go to a high-performing school, and the African-American students that go to SLPS are more likely to go to an under-performing school. Now, that is something we have to fix. And as mayor, I will partner with SLPS to make sure we are raising up those schools that are struggling and that are low-performing in the city. We can also do that through support services through our Recreation Department to make sure that we have mentoring and after-school programs, including tutoring, in City facilities after school to make sure education can continue even after school hours.
Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.