As The Capital Times prepares to make endorsements in Madison School Board races that will be decided April 2, our editorial board will ponder issues ranging from the reactions of candidates to Gov. Walker’s voucher plan, the achievement gap and the challenge of maintaining quality schools in a time of funding cuts and shortfalls.
Our editorial board will make endorsements in two contested races, for Seat 3 between former La Follette High School teacher and low-income housing provider Dean Loumos and retired Madison police lieutenant Wayne Strong, and for Seat 4 between incumbent James Howard and challenger Greg Packnett, a legislative aide. The candidates all have strengths, and present voters with distinct options.
In the third race, there isn’t really a race. Candidates TJ Mertz and Sarah Manski won the primary Feb. 19. Then Manski surprised the community by dropping out of the contest several days later — announcing that her husband has been admitted to graduate school in California and that she would not be able to finish a term. We didn’t editorialize about the primary race. But after Manski dropped out, we said she had done the right thing because it would have been entirely inappropriate to maintain a campaign for a term she could not complete. But, as a board, we were disappointed by the loss of competition and urged the candidate who finished third in the primary, Ananda Mirilli, to make a bid as a write-in contender.
Mirilli made a great impression during the primary race and, had she waged a write-in campaign, she would have done so as an innovative thinker about how best to make great public schools work for all students. As the parent of an elementary-school student and a big proponent of public education, I’m familiar with a number of the people who organized Mirilli’s primary campaign, and who would have supported a write-in run. They form an old-fashioned grass-roots group that recalls the sort of organizations that traditionally backed School Board candidates in Madison. They could have mounted a fine campaign. But I also respect Mirilli’s decision not to run. The race would have been expensive and difficult. We’ve spoken several times, before the primary and since, and I’m convinced Mirilli’s voice will remain a vital one in local and state education debates. There’s a good chance she will eventually join the School Board, just as current board member Marj Passman was elected a year after she lost a close race to another current School Board member, Maya Cole.
Unfortunately, with Mirilli out of the running, the Seat 5 race is an uncontested one. That’s focused a good deal of attention on Manski, who I’ve known since she was writing for the Daily Cardinal on the University of Wisconsin campus. Among the several boards I have served on over the years, including those of the media reform group Free Press and Women in Media and News, I’ve been on the board of the reform group Liberty Tree, for which Manski has done fundraising work. Manski’s husband, Ben, worked for Liberty Tree before he left to manage Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s presidential run.
Much more on the 2013 Madison School Board Elections, here.