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Sunday, February 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 16.0° F  Light Snow Blowing Snow and Breezy
The Daily
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James Howard and TJ Mertz will face achievement gap and budget challenges on new Madison school board
Close Seat 3 race between Dean Loumos and Wayne Strong still undecided
James Howard and TJ Mertz are each looking ahead to the challenges faced by the Madison school board.

Madison's newly elected school board members have their work cut out for them in what promises to be a year of change for the district. Not only is the board set to work with new superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, who started on April 1, it is also tasked with pushing through a plan to close the district's glaring achievement gap.

"I'm looking forward to getting to work on tackling the challenges we have here," says TJ Mertz, who won election to Seat 5 Tuesday night.

His opponent, Sarah Manski, quit the race shortly after the primary but remained on Tuesday's ballot and still drew 32% of the vote. Her vote totals surpassed those of legislative aide Greg Packnett, who was actively campaigning to oust school board president James Howard in Seat 4. Howard easily won reelection by 54 points.

Howard insists the board is ready to get to work, focusing more than ever on closing the achievement gap.

"We have some work to do around our African American students, there's no question about that," he said in a March interview.

But he believes the district is on the right track with its 4-year-old kindergarten program and its work with nonprofits like the United Way and Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.

Still, the strain of state budget cuts and the possibility of private school vouchers being offered Madison is showing. The board recently sent a memo to the district's parent teacher organizations asking parents to contact lawmakers and urge them not to support Gov. Scott Walker's plan to expand the voucher program, which is currently limited to Milwaukee and Racine.

"In the budget proposal," the memo said, "the implementation of private school vouchers in Madison, coupled with money targeted toward independent charter schools and NO increase in funding from the state, will be financially devastating to our school district."

The race for Seat 3 between Dean Loumos and Wayne Strong was too close to call Tuesday night, with just 279 votes separating the two candidates and absentee ballots still unaccounted for.

In the past, all absentee ballots were due to the city clerk's office by Election Day and were counted at each polling location. But because of a change in state law in 2011, ballots postmarked by Election Day will be counted as long as they are received by 4 p.m. on Friday, April 5, says a staffer in the clerk's office.

She says it is expected that the Board of Canvass will meet for up to five hours on Friday, but doubts the results for Seat 3 will be announced by that evening.

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