Flores celebrates with his own children and youth wrestlers he coaches at his victory party at the Harmony Bar.
Michael Flores -- firefighter, paramedic, parent, and school volunteer -- scored a decisive victory over Wayne Strong in the race for Seat 6 on the Madison school board. With 100% of precincts reporting, county tallies showed Flores at 62.4% (16,016 votes) over Strong’s 36.9% (9,472).
The scene at Flores' victory party at the Harmony Bar was festive and family-oriented. At about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the race tilting strongly in his favor, Flores took a call from opponent Strong, who congratulated Flores on the win.
Surrounded by children -- his own family members and youth wrestlers he coaches -- Flores grinned widely and thanked all the teachers and kids in the room. "These kids are going to kick some educational behind," he said.
This was the second bid for school board for both Flores and Strong.
After talking to Strong and learning that the race had been definitely called, Flores breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm excited, and I'm ready to get to work," Flores told Isthmus.
"I am honored to receive the support of the community and I hope the community continues to support me and all of our kids so we can overcome some of the issues we are facing and create an optimum educational environment for all of our kids."
Flores said he wants to make sure Madison schools offer a well-rounded education to students. "I want to make sure we treasure those enrichment opportunities: arts, music, painting, athletic opportunities for the kids. Those bring the community together," he explained. "Programs like youth wrestling build positive attitudes in our kids. They're excited about coming to school and playing and learning and cooperating and it teaches them responsibility and self-determination."
Flores graduated from Madison public schools, attending East High School, and said getting elected to the board is "unbelievable. I look forward to being present in schools and relearning some lessons. It's a great honor and it's a voice that's been missing so I can bring that perspective, too."
Flores, who is Hispanic, has said growing up poor and bilingual helps him understand the challenges some children in the district face. He pointed to the school board’s vote to revamp its disciplinary code as a step in the right direction.
"We need to make sure we have needed support so our kids are not left with needs that are unmet," said Flores. "We need to make sure the kids have the social workers and the positive behavior specialists. But it's definitely a lot better than 'zero tolerance.'"
Flores was endorsed by AFSCME-PEOPLE, Firefighters Local 311, South Central Federation of Labor, Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), and the Wisconsin State Journal.
Wayne Strong -- a retired police lieutenant who focused his campaign on racial disparities in education, and suspension rates in particular -- said in a phone interview that he was "obviously disappointed in the outcome" but "none the worse for wear."
Strong garnered endorsements from The Capital Times, Democratic Party of Dane County, MTI (which endorsed both candidates), and the Madison Professional Police Officers' Association.
"I definitely plan to stay involved in these issues because they're important to me: the achievement gap, discipline," Strong said.
Strong also lauded the board for scrapping the "zero-tolerance" policy. "That is a great first step in addressing these issues we've been involved with for a very long time," he said, "It's critical to keeping our kids in school and graduating. We need them in school and out of our jails."
Strong, who lost narrowly in 2013 to board member Dean Loumos, said he would not rule out running for the board again.
In an email, MTI President John Matthews said, "Tonight's election is significant because the newly elected Board member will have to fill the big shoes of retiring member Marjorie Passman, the only educator on the Board." He said the board needs to address how to attract and retain high-quality teachers in the wake of Act 10, the state law championed by Gov. Scott Walker which stripped most public employees of collective bargaining rights and reduced take home pay.