Christina School District Board Elections

Filed in Education by on May 9, 2016

I was asked in a comment on another post to weigh in on the Christina School District’s School Board elections tomorrow. I said my response deserved its own post; so here we go. I’ve been following the candidates over the last several weeks reading what they’ve been putting out on social media, listening to the feedback from people who attended the candidate forums. Tonight I attended the final candidate forum in person to hear the candidates first hand and I walked out feeling the same way I felt walking in.

Margaret Mason, a retired teacher and administrator from the District is running unopposed to fill the seat that will be vacated by the retiring Dave Resler.

Desiree Brady, former instructional para, current employee at the Boys & Girls Club on Rt. 40.

Elizabeth Paige, running for re-election, parent of 3 children in the district.

Candidate forums, in my mind, serve one purpose; to tell those in attendance what they want to hear. In chronological order, this is what I heard tonight:

  • The district needs to be more transparent with its finances. (Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up)
  • We need to hire a superintendent that wants to be in and stay in the District for a long term.
  • We need changes to our educational programs: expand gifted & talented to the arts; bring back vocational programs the District was once known for, expand early childhood education, “fix” class sizes.
  • Implement a K-8 and/or 6-12 model in some of our buildings.
  • Fix climate & discipline
  • The Route 40 corridor was overwhelmingly against the referendum because of trust issues
  • Wilson Elementary should be a K-8 magnet school (?!)
  • Parents choose not to engage and attend District functions
  • District does not push enough info out
  • The group of parents who are consistently involved with the district need to have their echo chamber broken up.

Points I feel merit some elaboration:

The district needs to be more transparent with its finances. This shit is so old and tired. (sorry for the language). I knew that would come up tonight and I knew that would be the response, so I submitted a follow up question: What would/should that transparency look like? The responses given went something like this: The district needs to be more transparent. CBOC meeting dates, times, locations should rotate. Budgets and financial reports should be open for anyone to examine.

The problem isn’t transparency. The problem is comprehension of public school finances. It isn’t a subject that everyone will understand (no matter how much it should be). It’s not for everyone, but those it is for know what they’re doing. Listen to them.

Route 40 corridor voted against the referendum because we don’t trust the district. Bull. If the 40 corridor didn’t trust the district, the schools in the area wouldn’t be bursting at the seams. All 3 candidates indicated a trust issue as the impetus of no votes. I tried to keep a poker face listening to those responses. Trust is on the list of issues, sure. I’m not sure it cracks the top 10 though. Any number of more informed responses in my mind would have been: Impoverished families voting to raise their own taxes or keep their bills paid. Impoverished families voting to raise their own taxes or put food on the table. Families trying to vote in the middle of the workday. Single parent families getting to the polls sometime between leaving work, picking the kids up from daycare, feeding them, doing homework, and other household daily things -or- dropping the kids off at daycare, going into work a mid-day shift, picking them up from daycare, feeding them, doing homework.. Transient children and families with no ability to get to the polls. You get the idea. It may be a choice, but it isn’t necessarily one the parent(s) get to make for themselves.

And the one theme I kept hearing more than anything; the need to move the district forward immediately followed by lamentation of past mistakes in the District. Which is pretty much what I hear at every Board meeting.

Now, on the positive: recognition that college isn’t the future of every student. CSD used to have awesome VoTech programs that fell by the wayside over the years. There was unanimous sentiment  they should be brought back.  Arts need to be a major factor in educational programming in CSD’s future. Mental health professionals should be fully funded in our schools.  We need additional early childhood programs, especially on the 40 corridor.  I support everything in this paragraph including the part where no one talked about how we afford all that.

This probably doesn’t sound like a resounding endorsement and that is because it isn’t. I walked out of the forum feeling exactly the same as I did walking in: underwhelmed.

Desiree Brady would make a fantastic candidate and Board Member if she had about 6 more months to get a handle on the District and our schools. I have tremendous respect for the work she does with the Boys and Girls Club and I think she has a great perspective on the impacts and effects of poverty on families, education, and overall well-being and I think that would be a refreshing viewpoint on our Board.

Margaret Mason, I heard a little too much of the Joey Wise era in some of the things she spoke about (understandable since she was in the District during that time). Not something I want to hear while being told the District should move forward, though. On the upside- she has great knowledge of education and the Christina Community.

Elizabeth Paige also knows the District well and isn’t afraid to say things that get attention; whether they should be said or not. She stands by her convictions even if they aren’t popular.

Mason is running unopposed; so in the only election that’s actually a contest, who would I endorse?  No one. And that’s a pretty awful feeling. I just did not hear the spark I wanted to hear from any of the candidates. I heard plenty of grand ideas but little detail on strategy and implementation. I realize there are seven members on the Board and one member can’t make everything happen but I just didn’t get hooked by anything that was said tonight.  Maybe I’m being too critical and not optimistic enough. I like to be proven wrong.

No matter the outcome tomorrow, I’m hopeful the Board can turn a corner and start leading the District. No matter how you plan to vote just make sure you get out there and do so tomorrow.

Semi-unrelated: the talk about limiting school board terms to 3 years? Pointless. You’ll take a year to navigate the learning curve of a school board, a year to actually do something, and then you’re running for re-election. Term limit to two 5 year terms if we must set a limit, fix the absurd school election system, then see if you need to shorten terms further.

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About the Author ()

A dad, husband, and public education supporter. Small tent progressive/liberal. Christina School District Citizen's Budget Oversight Committee member, who knows a bit about a lot when it comes to the convoluted mess that is education funding in the State of Delaware.

Comments (4)

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  1. kavips says:

    Thank you for this report….

  2. Christy says:

    In your opinion, what would a great board member look like? Now that today is voting day it doesn’t hurt to lay it all out there, right?

    I would like to see a board member have not only original thoughts and ideas, but also have research to back up what they are saying. The last thing I would want is to hear the same bullet points from the referendum campaign spouted back at every board candidate forum. I’ve heard it. Smaller class sizes. I get it, that is a good thing. Magnet schools, I think they could be effective but more research needs to be done to make sure they are inclusive to all students in a low-income district. The changing of schools to be from K-8. I’m not convinced that is the way to go. How many of our board members have looked at any case studies about changing grade configuration? And if they have then why aren’t they talking about it? Educate me. Show me that you know what you are talking about it and that is why you firmly stand by it. A board member should crave learning and sharing what they are learning. Not echo chambers.

    And if public forums are the way things need to be done then they shouldn’t make people feel uncomfortable to say anything. They should allow for two-way conversation.

    The people who keep telling me there are trust issues are the exact same paranoid people who have MADE the trust issues. You can’t keep making district admin out to be liars who hide things and then expect a community to trust that district. If a board member feels they are being lied to then they need to go into district office and sit down and get to the bottom of things not just send an email or shout about something at a board meeting and then not return to follow-up. When you are given an agenda and notes in advance of board meetings. Read them. When you see something you feel isn’t appropriate then ask IN ADVANCE of the meeting so you’re not spending time publicly fighting about something that you could have researched in advance and, I don’t know, perhaps come into a board meeting with your own damn ideas on what to do and why it would be helpful!

    So much finger pointing and bickering and very little in the way of solutions or forward thinking. It drives me crazy. And I do agree with you in that we’ve heard this all before time and time again. If you want the public to feel welcome and to be engaged then make them feel welcome, make them feel comfortable to engage. Realize that not everyone knows everything about public education and certainly not about school financing so talk with them in a way which makes them feel comfortable and equal and not in a condescending way. We have board members that speak to the public as if they are a piece of gum they scraped off their shoe. It makes me sick.

    Brian, I know I’m your wife, but I disagree on the board terms. It shouldn’t take a full year to get a handle on what the board needs to do. Six months tops if you’re dedicated to being a member and are actively making an effort to figure things out prior to your board seat and during your term. And yes in the 3rd year you would need to start campaigning again BUT if you have been an active, engaged, helpful member of the board it won’t be hard to get you re-elected. 5 year terms are too long and they allow far too much time to damage things when someone is sitting in the seat who should NOT be sitting in the seat.

    Forgive any typos please, it’s early and my allergies have made my eyesight blurry :(

  3. pandora says:

    Excellent blogging, Brian! Thanks for this.

  4. Eve Buckley says:

    Brian, one impetus behind the push for shorter board terms is to generate more interest in running for the board. Five years is a long time to commit to an unpaid, often thankless & contentious position. If we want more candidates with the “spark” you’re looking for, we may need to make the position more appealing. The hope is that shorter terms would help with that.