ST. LOUIS • Charli Cooksey, whose organization helps disadvantaged middle school students get into rigorous college prep high schools, received a $30,000 campaign contribution this week to boost her efforts to get onto the city’s elected school board.
The donation is by far the largest any St. Louis school board candidate has received in at least a decade, if not ever. It comes at a time when some are speculating that the elected board could regain control of St. Louis Public Schools as early as 2016.
The Washington-based Leadership for Educational Equity, which works to empower Teach For America alumni, donated the money to Cooksey’s campaign on March 24, according to a filing with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Cooksey, the executive director of InspireSTL, is one of five candidates running for two school board seats in the April 7 election. She is a former Teach For America corps member who taught two years at Carr Lane Middle School. Incumbents Katherine Wessling and David Jackson are on the ballot, as well as Natalie Vowell, Thomas Oldenburg and Joey Hollins.
The contribution to Cooksey’s campaign caught Jackson off guard. He has served on the board since 2007 and rarely raises funds. Vowell is the only other candidate who’s raised cash — $33, according to a campaign finance filing.
“It’s telling me personally someone doesn’t want me and Katie to be re-elected,” Jackson said, referring to Wessling. “There are some powers-that-be that are promoting this young lady.”
In 2007, the state stripped the elected board of its power and gave control to the Special Administrative Board, whose three members are appointed by the mayor, governor and aldermanic president. The intent was to bring stability to the district, which had become a revolving door for superintendents and was failing in the areas of finance and academics.
All three have areas improved, though academics still suffer, and the district is now provisionally accredited. The elected board continue to meet monthly at various schools, but without the ability to set policy or oversee the superintendent.
Last spring, the State Board of Education extended the life of the Special Administrative Board through June 2016. Then in December, the SAB wrote a letter to the elected board indicating it was willing to work on a transition plan. This has yet to take place.
“I want to be prepared for when and if that day comes,” Cooksey said, explaining why she’s running. “If power does return to the elected board I don’t want the same chaos to occur.”