When it comes to school board elections something is different. Just ask Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch and Michelle Rhee. They lost big in Los Angeles.
Despite Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and Rupert Murdoch’s big contributions, LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer was re-elected to the board, defeating their hope that Los Angeles would become the next big pathway to privatized education.
It seems that money, which is a must in other elections, doesn’t count for much in school board elections. And we don’t need to look at Los Angeles for proof. We experienced this phenomenon in Delaware.
Last year I wrote several posts on the upcoming school board elections. I hadn’t been paying much attention at the time, but as the election drew near, my attention was snagged. Something different was happening:
I haven’t really commented on the upcoming School Board elections, mainly because I can’t wrap my head around what’s going on. With all the attention on these races – phone polls, money, PACs – I keep feeling I’m missing something – Big. What is going on? What’s on the line? And why the hell is so much money being dumped into an election that, I predict, will still have a dismal turn-out.
Basically, what’s the agenda? For the life of me I don’t see it. Yeah, I get the split is between Charter and Choice (Ed reformers) supporters vs Traditional Public School supporters, but that’s hardly new. What’s new are the aggressive tactics being employed and the money being spent. All of this keeps me wondering… Am I missing something about these races; something that makes them vitally important? Is something major about to change depending on who wins these elections? If so, what?
So that’s where I started. The amount of money being dumped into our local school board races caught my attention. What held my attention was the emergence of Voices 4 Delaware, a nebulous PAC, that, in essence, became the school board candidate. You couldn’t turn around without being hit with one of their mailers or receiving another one of their phone calls. As I write this today, I can’t even remember the names of most of the candidates they supported, but I remember them.
And just like what happened in Los Angeles, big money lost in Delaware last year. And the defeat was stunning. I wrote a postmortem last May.
I’m not sure what to say about the candidates running for school board since they’ve become an afterthought in this election.
And here’s the main thing Voices 4 Delaware accomplished through their politically clumsy campaign… they have managed to lump all their candidates together.
In essence, Voices 4 Delaware has become the candidate.
This was the main problem. The choice presented to the voters was vote “for” or “against” Voices 4 Delaware. Their candidates individual personalities and ideas couldn’t be heard over their PACs noise. It was all about Voices 4 Delaware, and one was left with the impression that the individual candidates didn’t matter. It felt like… if a Voices candidate dropped out at the last minute it wouldn’t be a big deal, just find another warm body to take their place. Sadly, Voices 4 Delaware did a huge disservice to the candidates they supported.
So, what lessons have we learned?
1. Whoever came up with Voices 4 Delaware’s strategy for these school board elections should probably look for another job. Losing every one of these races is, well… embarrassing.
2. The candidates count. They should be allowed to be the voice of the campaign. Grouping them as one slate under a PACs umbrella was political suicide, mainly because no two school districts face the same problems. What was really lost in these races was the candidate. Streamlining may be an effective business technique, but I’d remind people that all politics are local.
3. There’s a way to beat Citizens United. One of the most asked questions I heard during these school board elections was, “Who are the people behind the PAC?” Everyone I spoke with had serious concerns about an anonymous group funneling money into an election. And while no one could define Voices 4 Delaware agenda, everyone knew an agenda existed.
There’s something about dumping large amounts of anonymous money into school board elections that turns people off. Which brings us back to what happened in Los Angeles. Bloomberg, Murdoch and Rhee lost. Go read this mom’s thoughts:
As a random mother of 2 teenagers, I awoke to this school board race when 4.5 million industrialist’s dollars poured into my little, local, school district, preempting attention from commonplace travesties such as sluggish fundraising and understaffed schools. In short order it became clear that this is an end-game for a massive, national power struggle in the dismantle-and-privatize-our-government game. Including an assault on the bulwark of labor unions, checks & balances and free thinking, this is a campaign of Herculean scale. And it’s been going on a long time; where have I been?? Without ever noticing it I was moved into a constituency camp termed “parent”, consigned to a group I never knew was conscripted, and ascribed a whole host of concerns and partisan viewpoints I never knew were mine.
I feel her pain. Where have we been? Because this has been going on for a while. And it always bothers me when people who obviously don’t believe in public education run for a seat on a public school board. Is their plan to destroy from within? Because this has very little to do with educating children. The mom of two continues:
Because the evidence is starting to pour in. The Reform School agenda which seeks to install privately setup small, isolated, corporately run charter schools are at best no worse than their public counterparts, and reach a small, select subset of the public besides. They result in breathtaking segregation and privation and an impoverished educational landscape. They leach public resources. Unaffordable, now, are the rich opportunities of varied educational “services” like music programs and art programs, lending libraries and speech and behavioural therapists. This School Reform Emperor has no clothes, and the evidence while slow to come in, is arriving at last.
This, I believe, is the real reason for the recent “billionarie’s-push” to fully enact the privatization agenda of School Reform. As the inferior outcomes of charter schools are revealed with time, so too is this canard of “reform”. Lost in the jockeying for private gain is the vast, ignored needs of the 99%. Social services, support and education are what sustain a democratic society. Replacing the aspirations of upward mobility among our lower and middle classes, codifies a system of short-term gain and massive profit that benefits very few. Removing our educational system from public control is undemocratic, inherently destructive of a sustainable society, and immoral.
Listening to ed reformers and charter school advocates is interesting. Getting past the propaganda is daunting. It goes something like this:
Public schools are terrible. Charter schools are public schools. Parents deserve a choice – how could anyone be against a parent’s choice? Charter schools offer a better education and better results than public schools – and they do it for less money. Unlike public schools, if a charter school fails, it shuts down.
Notice something about this? Take another look. Why do ed reformers/charter school advocates lump all charters together? Public school advocates don’t do this. Listening to ed reformers/charter school advocates one would be forgiven for thinking that there was no difference between the Charter School of Wilmington and Moyer Academy. That’s what always gets me. The idea that if your child didn’t get into the Charter School of Wilmington that your second choice would automatically be another charter school – any charter school. And why wouldn’t it be since the key point of ed reformers/charter school advocates is built on the premise that charter schools are superior to public schools?
Perhaps we’ll get to see this in action. With Pencader being shut down, I’m sure the white, middle class Pencader parents now scrambling to find a new school will turn to Moyer. Just like those who didn’t get into Newark Charter School are lining up to enroll at Kuumba and Edison charter schools. If they’re not doing this, then why not? Yeah, I know the answer. Not all charter schools are created equal (just like public schools). Go on and try to get the ed reformers to admit that. You’ll get close, but what you’ll end up with is: Of course, the Charter School of Wilmington is superior, but the other charter schools are superior to public schools. Not. Even. Close. To. True.
Meanwhile, another school board election is approaching. Voices 4 Delaware may have lost big last time, but we’d be foolish to think they’ve gone away. They’ll have changed their tactics, be a lot quieter, and we need to be vigilant in vetting our new slate of school board candidates. Underestimating ed reformers is a mistake. There’s too much public money on the line. It would be great if all the money being spent on these school board races was spent in the classroom, but this isn’t really about the children. Sad.
Tags: School Board Elections