They’re off and running: Three new faces seek seats on Madison’s school board

This week is the official start of the spring campaign season, and three local parents are launching bids for Madison’s board of education.
Arlene Silveira, 47, the president of Cherokee middle school’s parent-teacher organization, and Maya Cole, 42, an active member of the parent-teacher group at Franklin-Randall, are seeking the open seat being vacated by Bill Keys. Both say they’ll circulate nomination papers starting Dec. 1, the first day the law allows.
And, in the race generating the most buzz, Lucy Mathiak is seeking the seat now held by Juan Jose Lopez. The most aggressive of the three candidates, Mathiak could significantly alter the makeup of the board.
“People are disgusted and worried about our schools,” says Mathiak, 50. “People are tired of speeches. They want action, and they’re not seeing it.”
Lopez hasn’t decided whether to seek a fourth three-year term, but says he’s “leaning toward running.” He adds, “There are two things I love most. The first one is working with kids and the second is working on the school board.”
By Jason Shepard, “Talking out of school” from Isthmus, December 2,2005

Besides the advantage of incumbency, Lopez is a well-known advocate for Hispanic causes who has achieved a high profile on the board. He also has a demonstrated knack for appearing to be on both sides of contentious issues in trademark passionate – sometimes rambling – speeches.
For instance, Lopez halted approval of new administrative hires earlier this fall to publicly criticize Superintendent Art Rainwater’s record of hiring of minority staff. Two months later, Lopez issued a press release praising Rainwater’s record on the same issue.
And, at a meeting about police policies last week, Lopez said that when he reads police reports about arrests in schools, he sees “racial profiling.” Seconds later, he added, “I’m not accusing anybody of anything. I’m for zero tolerance.”
Mathiak’s challenge, assuming it’s a two-way race, will be to articulate differences between herself and Lopez – something she seems excited to do – and continue to raise the issue of change. She sees signs of growing voter discontent: Last spring’s ouster of incumbent Bill Clingan, Carol Carstensen’s closer-than-expected margin of victory, and the defeat of two out of three school spending referendums.
According to Mathiak, the board has failed to move beyond blaming the state for its fiscal problems and continues to make budget cuts that directly hurt students and academic programs.
“There are entire sections of the budget that are safe from cuts, that aren’t even considered and that have no direct impact on schools,” Mathiak says. “It’s simply time for a change.”
Mathiak is closely allied with dissident member Ruth Robarts and maverick Lawrie Kobza, whose campaign treasurer Barb Schrank is also Mathiak’s treasurer.
A mother of four whose youngest child is a junior at East High, Mathiak works as director of communications for the College of Letters and Science at UW-Madison. She holds a Ph.D. in history and says she’s been involved in school issues for 17 years. In a letter to potential donors, Mathiak estimated she needs $18,000 to run a competitive race against Lopez.
Both Silveira and Cole appear to be the antithesis of Keys, who is seen by some as arrogant and unduly combative.
Silveira says that while the district is generally strong, she sees better ways to handle issues and improve communication with parents. Silveira supports the board’s effort to craft a “$100 budget model” to simplify for the community the process of making next year’s budget cuts, estimated to be at least $6 million.
A single mother of an eighth grader and director of marketing for Promega, Silveira holds a master’s degree in molecular biology and is currently a member of a school task force examining boundary changes on the west side.
Silveira says she hopes to follow in the mold of Carol Carstensen, the current board president, citing her open mind and responsiveness.
Cole, meanwhile, has sought early advice from Kobza and Robarts. She too stresses the need for greater parent involvement, citing her experience as a mother.
“I get the sense that this campaign is going to be about shaking things up,” says Cole, who feels that communication by the board needs to improve. She says her own frustrating experience in trying to understand the district’s budget has propelled her to push for more accountability and openness.
Like Silveira, Cole is a political novice. She holds a biological science degree from the UW-Madison and lives on the west side with her husband, 8-year-old son and twin 6-year-old boys. She volunteers for several organizations in addition to her PTO activities.
The general election is set for April 4, with a primary on Feb. 21 for any race with more than two candidates.