Apathy & School Board Elections

Alan Borsuk:

Fatigue, indifference, apathy, resignation — they’re in the mix. There are supporters and loyalists, but, frankly, a lot of them are employees of the system.

More important, so much of the power to make hefty decisions shaping MPS — and school districts in general — really lies in Madison and (to a declining degree) in Washington.

With finances and politics the way they are in both Milwaukee and Madison, there doesn’t seem to be much willpower or much of a way to take bold action by the MPS board. For the most part, the thrust of decision making (or lack thereof) involves trying to hold on to what MPS has — buildings, programs, practices, kids — for fear change will be for the worse.

In fairness, there are good things to say about the current school board. It is a less contentious group than boards of 10 or 15 years ago, more focused on getting its business done. It has handled some things well — the MPS financial picture isn’t as gloomy as a few years ago, some better programs (Montessori, for example) are expanding, and the board made a swift but well-grounded choice of a new superintendent, Darienne Driver, in 2014. MPS continues to have some high performing schools and many dedicated, talented teachers.

But the big picture is low on energy and so are these elections.

To the degree there is a policy issue at stake Tuesday, it involves the future of charter schools that are authorized by the school board but operated by separate organizations, not employing MPS teachers.

MPS’ attitude toward these schools has run hot and cold over the years. But lately, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association has been turning up its opposition, and so has the board. Even in the post-Act 10 world, the union remains a powerful force.

Madison has two uncontested candidates on the April 7 ballot.