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At first, it was all flowers and back slaps and standing ovations at the Kansas City, Missouri, School Board meeting last night. Supporters of Crispin Rea, Joseph Jackson and Kyleen Carroll filled the auditorium and cheered loudly as the winners in the April 6 election were sworn in.
But the first act of business for the new board -- selecting its leadership -- got a little tense.
It was clear Airick West had the five votes to become the next board president. His political organization aided and endorsed the new members who took their seats Wednesday night. That's three votes. Incumbent Derek Richey had not only backed West's candidates in the election, but also stood with West in efforts to change the way the board governs. That's four votes. By supporting himself, West would have the needed five ayes to take the gavel.
The only question: Would the vote be unanimous?
When Superintendent John Covington opened the floor for nominations from board members, Duane Kelly had the first hand, nominating Arthur Benson. Benson accepted. Before the vote, though, West asked to suspend the rules to give the board members an opportunity to discuss the qualities they wanted in their next leader.
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After some confusion, the motion carried. West was the first to comment, saying the district would be best served if the next board president were elected unanimously.
Covington opened the floor for further debate.
So the superintendent went back to nominations. Again, Kelly's hand shot up: Arthur Benson for president. As expected by many in the crowd, Derek Richey nominated West.
By virtue of Kelly's surprisingly quick reflexes, Benson got the first vote. The desegregation attorney had his speech prepared, offering a long list of his legal battles on behalf of students, parents and teachers who had been mistreated by the district. "I believe I have the experience, knowledge and ability to keep us focused on what the research says," he said of educating kids in the urban district.
"I ask that Mr. West support me in this effort."
"Boo!" shouted several in the audience.
"Ladies and gentlemen, decorum, please!" West responded.
Instead of taking Benson's bait, West launched into his own pitch for president. He told the crowd he believed in the potential of the students and the ability of the community to rally around the needs of its children.
Applause from the crowd.
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Then it got tense. The secretary started to call the vote for Benson. Duane Kelly, Ray Wilson
and Marilyn Simmons
joined Benson. Only four votes. Not enough.
So the vote was called for West. As expected, the three new board members joined Richey in backing West. Benson and Kelly switched their support to West, as well. Only two voted against: Simmons and Wilson.
Though it wasn't unanimous, as West had hoped, the crowd whooped in support, as the new president moved to the chair in the middle of the table.
The voting for vice president was quick. Kelly, a third time, nominated Benson. Benson declined. West put up Richey. He obliged and received all nine votes.
After the vote, there wasn't much to talk about, which was lucky for West. As he read off a schedule of board meetings, people in the audience struggled to hear him.
"Talk into the mic!" someone yelled from the crowd.
West smiled slightly, leaned forward. "I'm new."