Since 2007, there have been nine elections for seats on the Madison School Board. Only two have been contested. Thus, in seven instances, a candidate was elected or re-elected without having to persuade the community on the merits of his or her platform, without ever facing an opponent in a debate.
This year, two seats on the School Board are hotly contested, a political dynamic that engages the community and that most members of the board welcome.
“What an active campaign does is get the candidate out and engaged with the community, specifically on larger issues affecting the school district,” says Lucy Mathiak, a School Board member who is vacating one of the seats that is on the April 3 ballot.
Competition may be healthy, but it can also be ugly. While the rhetoric in this year’s School Board races seems harmless compared to the toxic dialogue we’ve grown accustomed to in national and state politics, there is a palpable tension that underpins the contests.
Teachers and their union worry that Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on collective bargaining rights and support for school vouchers could gain more traction if candidates who favor “flexibilities” and “tools” get elected to the board. Meanwhile, many in the black community feel their children are being neglected because policy-makers are not willing to challenge the unions or the status quo. District officials must contend with a rising poverty level among enrolled students and concerns about “white flight.”
In addition to massive cuts to education funding from the state, the current anxiety about the future of Madison’s schools was fueled by last year’s debate over the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, a charter school plan devised by Kaleem Caire, the head of the Urban League of Greater Madison, to help minority students who are falling behind their white peers in academic achievement. Minority students in the Madison district have only a 48 percent four-year graduation rate and score much lower on standardized tests than do white students.
Objections to Madison Prep varied. Some thought creating a school focused on certain racial groups would be a step backward toward segregation. Others disliked the plan for its same-sex classrooms.
However, what ultimately killed the plan was the Urban League’s decision to have the school operate as a “non-instrumentality” of the Madison Metropolitan School District, meaning it would not have to hire union-represented district teachers and staff. In particular, Caire wanted to be able to hire non-white social workers and psychologists, few of whom are on the district’s current staff.
Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
Seat 1 Candidates:
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
Seat 2 Candidates:
1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Photos & Audio
Listen to the event via this 77MB mp3 audio file.
Arlene Silveira & Michael Flores Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Q & A