While Madison's mayoral and aldermanic elections might garner the most attention, the races for the Madison school board might have the most far-reaching consequences for the city and its families. To help voters assess the candidates, Isthmus is conducting its second annual Take Home Test of the hopefuls.
Here are the responses from the two candidates for Seat 4, incumbent Johnny Winston, Jr. and challenger Tom Brew.
The Daily Page: Tell us what in your background best prepares you to serve on the Madison school board?
Tom Brew: I am running for the school board because I feel that we need some new ideas on the school board. As a native Madisonian having been born and educated in the Madison public schools, and having had my three children educated in the Madison school system, I feel that I have some new and different ideas to share.
Johnny Winston, Jr.: My entire background has best prepared me for my incumbent status and current presidency of the Board of Education. I am a former MMSD student, staff member, community center director, and parent of two district graduates. Educationally, I have attained a Masters degree in Business Management and a certificate in Public Management. Currently, I am a firefighter/emergency medical technician for the City of Madison. I also serve on several organizational boards and committees such as the 100 Black Men, United Way Schools of Hope Leadership and MATC Diversity Initiative. Lastly, I am a high school and college basketball official and district taxpayer.
All of these experiences have prepared me for public service on the Madison school board. As a former student, staff member, center director, and parent, I understand how the board's decisions affect different constituencies. Having a formal education allows me to use my knowledge, skills and abilities in a professional setting. As a firefighter, I have the ability to work under stressful situations and conditions. Serving on boards and committees have given me the opportunity to work in collaboration with others for the betterment of our community. As a basketball official my responsibility is to know the rules, apply them fairly and use my best judgment to make decisions. As a taxpayer, I understand and respect our taxpaying community without children attending the district that supports education and want the best return on their investment.
Extra Credit: Why are you running for such a thankless job where no matter what you do a portion of the electorate will always be furious over your position?
Tom Brew: We need to look at different ideas to see what will work and what won't work in regard to educating the children of Madison. I know that not all of the people will like some of the positions that I take, but I hope to generate debate and ultimately come up with ideas and solutions that will benefit both the children, the teachers, and the taxpayers in the best possible way.
Johnny Winston, Jr.: Our motto for this year's school board is, "Agree to disagree but not be disagreeable." I believe that we can all agree that education is important. However, we may disagree on how to spend taxpayer dollars or which programs or services to reduce. Our citizens respect being listened to and want to be involved in district processes. I have done this since being elected in 2004. As stated in the first question, my current and past experiences make me an ideal member of the school board.
More than ever before, there is a need for greater communication between the stakeholders of the community. Board members in are positions to provide leadership in this area. I have provided oversight, accountability and support for teachers and students. I have been an active member of the board by studying the information and issues. I have made decisions based on knowledge and not political agendas. I have assisted in developing policy that has helped our students be successful in our school district whether they are struggling socially or high achieving academically. I have built bridges by developing and strengthening partnerships with our local university and colleges, business community, and not for profit groups.
I have worked to strengthen communication and involvement by having meetings televised, appointing citizen members to task forces to study issues, "blogging" on websites, publishing newsletters and have spoken to countless numbers of neighborhood associations, parent teacher organizations and civic groups regarding district challenges such as overcrowding that resulted in passage of a successful referenda in November.
In the final analysis, there are many divergent views and opinions. Citizens elect board members to make decisions and represent the community. Sometimes the decisions are not popular, however, we can listen to each other and agree to disagree but not be disagreeable.