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First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby Donald » Fri Mar 08, 2013 11:41 pm

grumpybear wrote:I'm an outsider on this topic, no kids, etc. However, I've got one burning question. How does electing school board members by area or some other criteria, make the things better? Maybe I'm being contrarian but I think if you elect school board members by area they will only work for the good of their area. They will fight for money for their schools at the expense of other areas of town. Shouldn't the school board be looking at the entire district and hence be elected from the anywhere? Would "districting" make it any likelier for different opinions to be heard?

The answer here is obvious. We actually want board members who are knowledgeable about what schools in their area need. Running in a geographic area makes board members more responsive to real needs of schools and students in their area, not to the needs of political interests or to Doyle building administration.

No one board member is going to be able to siphon resources away from other schools because the other board members will be watching out for the interest of schools in their area. There are thousands of school districts around the country that have geographical representation on school boards, and favoritism usually is not an issue.

What happens is you get board members who are more attuned to the problems/issues in schools, who are more proactive with administration to help provide answers and solutions, and who work together better with board members to address real issues.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby WestSideYuppie » Sat Mar 09, 2013 12:04 am

I think there are good arguments for both local and at-large members. For instance, there can be reasons for candidates to run on issues that affect the school system as a whole. IIRC a candidate got elected whose main issue was math instruction. It's hard for such issues to get any attention if each school board member is focused on guarding his or her piece of the pie.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby david cohen » Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:28 am

I should point out that there was a time (1998-2005) in which West side Board members did work hard to protect their schools against the higher needs of north and east side schools. However, this eventually became irrelevant when the levels of poverty spread throughout Madison. Nowadays, almost every school has a larger population of free and reduced lunch students. Those were ugly times and pretty much consumed my activism. However, it does illustrate the potential for "local" board members to be far more concerned with their piece of the pie.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby SlayerDave » Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:55 am

I guess I'm not opposed to the idea, but I do wonder about the "weakening political interests" rationale. In a low turnout election, it seems to me smaller districts could actually lead to those groups having more sway rather than less.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby Donald » Sat Mar 09, 2013 10:15 am

david cohen wrote:I should point out that there was a time (1998-2005) in which West side Board members did work hard to protect their schools against the higher needs of north and east side schools. However, this eventually became irrelevant when the levels of poverty spread throughout Madison. Nowadays, almost every school has a larger population of free and reduced lunch students. Those were ugly times and pretty much consumed my activism. However, it does illustrate the potential for "local" board members to be far more concerned with their piece of the pie.

Wait. The board at that time was elected at-large, which resulted in the board being dominated by near west to near east side members who mostly had a subservience to the Doyle Building and MTI (the union, not the classroom teachers in our schools). They certainly didn't represent the interests of students. I remember looking at the voting patterns of a few of those elections. A few near east and near west side precincts actually elected the school board. The rest of the district might as well have not voted. So, no one on the board was looking out for the interests of those north and east side students because the powers that ran the district didn't think it was important.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby Donald » Sat Mar 09, 2013 11:55 am

WestSideYuppie wrote:I think there are good arguments for both local and at-large members. For instance, there can be reasons for candidates to run on issues that affect the school system as a whole. IIRC a candidate got elected whose main issue was math instruction. It's hard for such issues to get any attention if each school board member is focused on guarding his or her piece of the pie.

I'm not sure why candidates running in a geographical district would be any less concerned with math instruction. Math is taught in all of our schools. Because math instruction is a concern in every school, I would think there would be more consideration by more board members than having just one guy on a mission. Issues might be highlighted when one board member is on a mission. Things get done when several board members have a concern and work together for change.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby Ed Hughes » Sat Mar 09, 2013 12:45 pm

School Board members do not specifically advocate for their own neighborhood schools. But it is natural that Board members are more familiar with the issues at, for example, the schools their kids attend. In order to address this potential parochialism, for the last several years each Board member has been assigned six or seven “liaison” schools. The schools change each year. You can see this year’s assignments here: https://boeweb.madison.k12.wi.us/node/2389

Board members visit their liaison schools, talk to the principals, and get a sense of each school’s particular needs, and tend to represent the Board at those schools when the occasion arises. For example, Memorial is one of my schools this year. When there was a grand opening of a Summit Credit Union branch at Memorial a few weeks ago, I attended on behalf of the Board. (Beth Moss was there as well.) There has been an issue with the dual language immersion program at Chavez this year. Since Arlene Silveira is the Board liaison to Chavez, she is the one who has been attending the meetings and keeping the rest of the Board informed. I recall James Howard raising an issue about additional resources for Glendale, which he became aware of after visiting the school and meeting with the principal there.

I am not sure I understand what the problem is that proposals for changing the way the Board is elected are intended to address, but there currently aren’t any schools that are neglected stepchildren as far as the Board is concerned.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby gargantua » Sat Mar 09, 2013 1:15 pm

Ed Hughes wrote:I am not sure I understand what the problem is that proposals for changing the way the Board is elected are intended to address.

I'm not opposed to changing the method by which board members are elected, but I have the same question. It strikes me as akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What exactly will change as a result that will improve the performance of the schools? I'm not being a contrarian, at least I don't think so, but I just don't get it other than this is some sort of reaction to the Manski fiasco. I just don't see that happening again after this.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby david cohen » Sat Mar 09, 2013 1:46 pm

Donald wrote:
david cohen wrote:I should point out that there was a time (1998-2005) in which West side Board members did work hard to protect their schools against the higher needs of north and east side schools. However, this eventually became irrelevant when the levels of poverty spread throughout Madison. Nowadays, almost every school has a larger population of free and reduced lunch students. Those were ugly times and pretty much consumed my activism. However, it does illustrate the potential for "local" board members to be far more concerned with their piece of the pie.

Wait. The board at that time was elected at-large, which resulted in the board being dominated by near west to near east side members who mostly had a subservience to the Doyle Building and MTI (the union, not the classroom teachers in our schools). They certainly didn't represent the interests of students. I remember looking at the voting patterns of a few of those elections. A few near east and near west side precincts actually elected the school board. The rest of the district might as well have not voted. So, no one on the board was looking out for the interests of those north and east side students because the powers that ran the district didn't think it was important.



With all due respect Donald, I sat in more than one meeting where I was told by more than one board member that they would not sacrifice resources for near west schools in order to assist northeast schools. The board members resided on the near west side and actually used the phrase "our folks"...but that's really not important other to illustrate the potential for abuse, which I guess can occur in either representative scheme. I do agree with you that back then, they were more interested in propping up whatever the folks at Doyle wanted than what the actually buildings needed. As i said before, things are drastically different now that all our schools are "needy".
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby green union terrace chair » Sat Mar 09, 2013 4:41 pm

grumpybear wrote:I'm an outsider on this topic, no kids, etc.

Grumpybear, even without kids, if you live in Madison, this issue (and all School Board / MMSD issues) affects you for two reasons:
1) Taxes
2) The quality of education determines what type of citizens we have as future residents of Madison, that is, your future neighbors and fellow voters (or non-voters).

So you should care not only about how many dollars are spent but also how those dollars are spent and how we choose the people who spend them!
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby green union terrace chair » Sat Mar 09, 2013 4:55 pm

Ed Hughes wrote:School Board members do not specifically advocate for their own neighborhood schools. But it is natural that Board members are more familiar with the issues at, for example, the schools their kids attend. In order to address this potential parochialism, for the last several years each Board member has been assigned six or seven “liaison” schools. The schools change each year. You can see this year’s assignments here: https://boeweb.madison.k12.wi.us/node/2389

Ed, I appreciate you taking part in this and other School Board-related threads on TDPF.

If I could take a moment to get technical and comment on the MMSD website. I don't know how long the MMSD has been using this current Drupal site, but you should get your webmaster to use contextual links. Instead of:
https://boeweb.madison.k12.wi.us/node/2389
you could have:
https://boeweb.madison.k12.wi.us/board-members
or since it's a sub-directory:
https://boeweb.madison.k12.wi.us/board/members
... which not only helps Google to give people the right links when searching but also helps you in remembering them or giving them out. I'm sure you didn't memorize "node/2389" ... or maybe you've used it enough now that you have! Either way, it's something the MMSD webmaster ought to do. I see a ton of those "node/####" links on the site and those should only be used when setting it up.

To further digress, "https://boeweb.madison.k12.wi.us" is pretty terrible, too. Feels like 1996 again.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby grimfees » Sat Mar 09, 2013 6:54 pm

grumpybear wrote:I'm an outsider on this topic, no kids, etc. However, I've got one burning question. How does electing school board members by area or some other criteria, make the things better? Maybe I'm being contrarian but I think if you elect school board members by area they will only work for the good of their area. They will fight for money for their schools at the expense of other areas of town. Shouldn't the school board be looking at the entire district and hence be elected from the anywhere? Would "districting" make it any likelier for different opinions to be heard?


This. The issue is the personalities on the board. Electing board members district wide is better than doing it by geographical area. At the very least the board should be one-half geographical representation and one-half district wide.

For me, it's a red flag whenever anyone starts talking about redoing the way representatives are apportioned. The suspicious side of me suspects that certain right-wing nutjobs (be it evangelical, tea-party, or whatever) can't get their political hacks elected to the MMSD Board so they want special geographical districts drawn up so that they automatically get several seats every election.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby snoqueen » Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:32 pm

When I asked if it would work to have a school board member elected from each high school attendance area, my reasoning was that if minority or poor students were concentrated in one school, its school board member could represent those students' interests.

It's been explained that by now, all the HS attendance areas contain minority and poor students and they aren't necessarily that concentrated. Also a map was posted showing school board members come from all parts of Madison not just one area. So those two reasons to have dedicated seats might not hold water at this moment in time. Still, having at least some dedicated seats (and some at-large seats) could be wise given that population changes are usually ongoing and the present condition of balance isn't necessarily permanent. If assigning board members to particular schools does the job just as well and no school feels underrepresented, then it's not worth discussing further.

I'm not sure what geographical district could possibly be drawn up that favors right-wing nutjobs in the city of Madison, though it certainly works on a statewide level. We do pretty well with solidly left-wing districts, in contrast. Didn't we have two or three that voted >90% against Walker in the recall? That ain't easy.

I'm not as concerned about electing right-wing nutjobs as I am about electing a board that exemplifies diversity and has, overall, what you might call a "sharp pencil." It's important to remember the school board represents the district's taxpayers, not the MMSD teachers, the parents, or even the students. As green-chair says, it's to the benefit of the taxpayers to provide a good education to the next generation. I can't make any sense of the district's finances (not only am I no bookkeeper, but each school reports in its own individual format so comparisons are nearly impossible from what I can tell). I want to believe the board members are good and competent stewards for the district's taxpayers. That part is just as important as being sure each minority (and we are all part of some minority) gets represented.
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Re: First Step For School District: Get 120.42 (b) Repealed

Postby Donald » Sat Mar 09, 2013 11:22 pm

grimfees wrote:...For me, it's a red flag whenever anyone starts talking about redoing the way representatives are apportioned. The suspicious side of me suspects that certain right-wing nutjobs (be it evangelical, tea-party, or whatever) can't get their political hacks elected to the MMSD Board so they want special geographical districts drawn up so that they automatically get several seats every election.

The suspicious side of me starts raising a red flag when political hacks claim that the way we currently "elect" school board members gets us the best candidates and school board members. Smearing candidates with false whisper campaigns has been a tried and true method of winning at-large school board elections. When you don't know any of the people running, as most of us don't in these at-large elections, it's pretty easy to smear them. When that person is your neighbor, as in districted elections, you are more likely to know the smears are bullshit.

You have included several of the most effective smear buzzwords in your post. I'm sure you will soon be calling me these names (which are 180 degrees from my political leanings), and with that you will think that you have placed any thought of changing the way we elect school board members as outside the circle of acceptable discussion. That isn't going to happen, because this school board election seems to be especially dirty.
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