Five candidates are competing for three seats on the Madison school board, with the general election on April 2, 2013.
The political context for the races is explosive, given Gov. Scott Walker's revolutionary proposals for education in Wisconsin: cuts to public school funding, an expansion of the voucher program, and a revamping of teachers' evaluations and bargaining rights.
In Madison, the issues are particularly complex, with the intense disagreements over the district's achievement gap between white and minority students.
TJ Mertz, an Edgewood College history instructor and education blogger, is running unopposed after Sarah Manski dropped out of the race for Seat 5 following the February primary. Her name will appear on the ballot, but she is moving to California. Mertz will replace retiring school board member Maya Cole.
In this competitive series of elections, there are numerous candidate forums and listening sessions under way, and we thought we'd pose our own questions to candidates. We start by asking the candidates about their experience, and how they would address the achievement gap in the district.
Why are you running, and what qualifies you to be on the Madison school board? What is your stake in Madison schools?
I am running for the Board of Education to help our schools live up to their promises to create opportunities for individuals, strengthen our community, and build a better future for all our children. Madison is a community and district where we have the means, the will and the responsibility to show that in a diverse community public education can work.
The challenges have never been greater. Cuts in funding, privatization pressures, growing inequality, attacks on our teachers and their unions, standardized tests and "accountability" systems, and more, have made the work of school boards more difficult and more crucial. Madison needs school board members who are prepared, progressive and passionate.
I am prepared. I came to Madison for graduate school in the history of public education; we stayed to raise a family. Our two sons have attended Franklin, Randall, Wright and West.
With the MMSD Equity Task Force, I helped craft a positive vision for our district that is still relevant today. As a co-chair of Community and Schools Together, I helped build the organization that led the successful school referendum campaigns in 2006 and 2008. Because of these efforts our schools will avoid $13 million in cuts this year. Working with the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools -- a state-wide coalitions of parents, teachers, and students -- I have researched and organized for better school funding.
I have attended over 200 school board and committee meetings, listening to the concerns of parents, teachers and students and helping them find ways to make their voices heard. Throughout this, I have written for Advocating on Madison Public Schools and illuminated issues facing public schools.
I am progressive. I am committed to participatory democracy, transparency, high standards of professionalism, and budgeting to target the students with the greatest needs.
I am passionate. I have made public education my life's work. There is nothing we do that is more important than preparing our children for the challenges they will face.
I ask for your vote on April 2 and your continued help to improve our schools. For more information, visit MertzforMadison.com.
What is the best way to address the district's achievement gap? How would you balance the needs of high achieving and low achieving students?
Instead of "achievement gap" (singular), I always use "gaps" (plural), because this leads us toward what we should be doing, which is seeking to understand and address the different obstacles our students face. There are many gaps in achievement and opportunities. The challenges of those learning English are not the same as those struggling against poverty. The actions needed to get every student to literacy are not the same ones that will help change the shameful racial and economic disparities in our advanced programs.
Our front-line professional staff -- teachers, and support personnel -- are the most important tool the district has for enhancing achievement for all students: those at the top; those at the bottom; and those in the middle. To maximize their impact, the district budget must do more to allocate staff in ways that address the diverse needs of our schools. Some schools need more interventions, others more advanced opportunities; all schools need some flexibility. This is the kind of equity-based budgeting I have been advocating since serving on the Equity Task Force.
The Board can also assure that the experiences of front-line staff, students, and families are central in program design, implementation and evaluation. Top-down and data-driven policy-making don't take advantage of the knowledge of those most involved in teaching and learning. We need better data analysis, but we need to listen to the voices from our classrooms also.
After 20 years of inadequate and inequitable funding, our schools cannot do everything we would like to do for every student. I have been active in the efforts to reform state school funding; as Governor Walker's biennial budget is considered and amended, it is essential that we unite in opposition to the proposals that move us further from adequate and equitable funding. The provisions of the Governor's budget will make it even more difficult for MMSD to give our students the opportunities they need and deserve.
No matter what budgetary challenges our state and district face, it is clear that we must work together to make our district an exemplar of equity and excellence.