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When asked about his team's platform, Bookhart lists just one goal. "All children who graduate from the Kansas City Missouri School District will be in the top 10 percent of the nation," Bookhart explains. "It's that simple. Who can be against that?"
It's early on a Monday morning, but every chair in the small meeting room at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church is occupied. Perched in a corner, Airick West trains a video camera on a trio of school board candidates. At the podium, a former school principal tells Tauheed, Jackson and Natalie Lewis, a write-in candidate, that he's going to be asking the tough questions.
At its weekly meetings, the Black Agenda Group often discusses issues of education, but today its members are grilling the school board candidates running in Subdistrict 4. Jackson and Tauheed, whose names appear on the ballot, differ in many of their answers during the debate. Jackson says the district needs stability through a long-tenured superintendent; Tauheed says the revolving door of administrators is mostly a newspaper-promoted exaggeration. Jackson says he's not happy with the conduct and direction of the current board; Tauheed backs Simmons' leadership.
Unspoken alliances — and animosity — make the brief silence between questions uncomfortable, especially when Tauheed talks up his team. "The problem is, if you're in the minority, you can't get anything done," he says. "That is why I'm running with Ms. Simmons. With her and the two other members on that team, now we have a majority. So the process of moving things forward can occur."
A few people whistle; others laugh anxiously. Jackson jumps in.
"I am not running as a member of a slate or a team," he says. "It's going to take independent people working together, not representing the status quo. But the status quo is what we'll end up having because it will be one group down there that controls the entire board. The other members won't be relevant because we have a team running the board. We must look at individuals who don't have a common agenda but an agenda for all the children in the district."
When the discussion turns to school closings and Covington, the temperature rises again. Tauheed has some sharp criticisms.
"This superintendent could have gone and talked to the parents and said, 'I'm new here. I have a board I can work with. Don't leave,'" Tauheed says. "Instead, what he's done is created for parents more uncertainty, and now they're going to leave at a faster pace."
"You don't support the superintendent?" Carol Coe, a neighborhood activist, asks from the other side of the table.
Tauheed bristles. "You don't know who I support," he says.
The debate moderators jump in, trying to defuse the start of an argument.
Now, with less than a week to go, two sides have clearly emerged. West's group formally endorsed Carroll, Rea and Jackson: A trio that would, if elected, create a majority with West and current member Derek Richey. In that case, West might become board president. Almost certainly, the board would continue to back Covington's plan to close more than two dozen schools.
If Bookhart's team gets elected, Tauheed says, board member Ray Wilson will vote with them to let Simmons keep the gavel. Both Tauheed and Hughlon have expressed frustration with the superintendent and dismay at the school closings. Hughlon held a press event at Paseo Middle School for the Arts, drawing attention to the building's closing.