Editorial: Better school board races

Capital Times Editorial – April 9, 2007:
This year’s race for the Madison School Board seat left open by the retirement of Ruth Robarts makes the case for doing School Board campaigns differently.
This newspaper endorsed mother-on-a-mission Maya Cole over champion-teacher Marj Passman because we thought Cole had some stronger ideas about how to encourage innovation by a school district that is often too cautious when it comes to making needed changes.
But we would have been perfectly satisfied if Passman had won.
The truth about the race was that Cole and Passman were two of the finest contenders for the board that Madison has seen in a long time.
Unfortunately, you would not know that from listening to the campaign.

3 thoughts on “Editorial: Better school board races”

  1. Public financing of BoE races *just might* keep the left from devouring itself. Then again, I think we have taken a certain glee in devouring ourselves…and public financing certainly won’t preclude our devouring the right;)

  2. There was a clear difference between the two women, if only in personal style. Passman would have resurrected the arrogance and bullying Keys brought to the board and the last thing our schools need is a return to that authoritarian, unproductive nonsense. Given what I’ve seen Matthews and Keys out there saying since the election (not to mention before), I have to wonder if the CapTimes hasn’t gotten a bit of pressure for endorsing Cole.
    It’s ironic that when MTI yokes two candidates together and only one wins, they question how well informed the voters are. Seems to me rather strong evidence that the voters knew exactly what they were doing.
    I do agree with the assertion that we need publicly financed elections. Who doesn’t? But I would also like to see more candidates reject endorsements that serve as a special interest loyalty oath like the ones MTI or PD offer. (To say that Cole and Passman both had union endorsements covers over a multitude of sins.) And the CapTimes’ assertion that both candidates had conservative and liberal backers—boy, that’s not how I heard it from the CAST and AMPS folks.
    That larger discussion of the future of our schools is one I’d like to see the BOE have, too. Who doesn’t want our schools to succeed for all students? The CapTimes wishes we’d had the debate during the campaign. Well, let’s have that debate now. Then come next election, the voters will be able to judge which candidates’ position allies with whom on the existing board.

  3. The Cap Times highlights a real problem, but public financing is not necessarily the best or only answer.
    Reducing the influence of special interest groups in school board elections is fairly easy to do by geographically districting the school board seats. Other districts that have moved from at-large to districted seats find that the emphasis of the election shifts from currying favor with political elites organized city-wide to more emphasis on addressing educational issues of interest to parents. They also find that the cost to run decreases, making running a viable option for poorer candidates. Also, the elections become more grassroots, door-knocking affairs where candidates can meet and know the real concerns of their consitutents.
    I’m sure many of you know lots of people who are active in neighborhood schools who would be excellent school board members. Many of these people won’t run now because the district’s elections are structured to maximize the influence of the political elites, and minimize the influence of parents.
    Now, you might wonder why MMSD can’t district its school board seats on a vote of the school board. The reason is the political elites lobbied a to make MMSD the only school district in the state that by law can’t hold elections in geographic districts. That’s the kind of vice grip the political elites have on MMSD.
    Under this system, I’m afraid public financing would simply be a way to fund the favored candidates of the political elites, rather than result in a better election system for school board candidates.

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