Here are a few of the issues that Madison School Board members have faced recently:
- How much of our current $10 million in unused revenue cap spending authority can we prudently devote to initiatives identified in the achievement gap plan? How much of the authority should we hold onto to address the fiscal challenges we’ll face for the 2013-2014 school year? What impact will using up our revenue limit authority have on the negative tertiary aid component of the state’s general school aid formula?
- What’s the best way to structure the payback schedule for the debt we’ll incur to issue Qualified Zone Academy Bonds and refinance some of our debt? What’s an appropriate discount rate to use to evaluate different long-term options? What effect, if any, will our choice have on our current bond rating?
- Is an AP American History class appropriate for high-achieving ninth graders?
- What Department of Labor employment figures provide the best points of comparison when we are assessing our hiring for diversity goals? What’s the appropriate statistical test to determine the significance of the extent to which particular goals have not been met?
- What key performance indicators are most important to include in the data dashboard the school district is currently developing?
- What does the school district’s value-added data tell us about the relative impact of low-income status and race on our students’ performance on WKCE standardized tests?
- How do we deal with the inevitability of an increasing number of our schools being “identified for improvement” under the No Child Left Behind law? Will the DPI request for a waiver from NCLB provisions help us or hurt us? How does the dispute between the governor and DPI about school accountability measures affect this analysis?
As this list suggests, the School Board deals with an ever-changing array of complex substantive issues related to the operation of our schools. This is no surprise, as the Board is legally responsible for the school district’s annual expenditures in excess of $350 million, its employment of more than 3700 teachers, staff and other employees, and the education of more than 25,000 students.
If the community prefers School Board members who are capable of applying independent judgment to the broad array of issues that come before them, then we must elect School Board candidates whose background, experience, and skills equip them to understand the issues and address them in an informed and reasonable way.
A big heart and genuine interest in kids and schools are certainly prerequisites for the job, but they aren’t enough – just as they aren’t enough to equip a person to teach high school physics or calculus, to plan a month’s worth of elementary school cafeteria lunches, or to carry out the oversight and evaluation responsibilities of a middle school principal. Skills matter.
Mary Burke and Michael Flores are vying to replace Lucy Mathiak on the Madison School Board. Judged by their background, experience and skills and by the extent to which they’re prepared to grapple with the tough issues the Board faces, there is simply no comparison between the two. Mary Burke stands out. Mary may be the best-qualified candidate to run for Madison School Board in quite a while. (She’s far better qualified than I was when I first ran, for whatever that’s worth).
Let’s run through some of the dimensions of experience that can be helpful for School Board service. Involvement with our schools? Check. Mary is the co-founder and co-chair of the AVID/TOPS program, a widely-praised partnership between the school district and Boys and Girls Club that started at East High and is now in all our high schools and spreading to our middle schools. She is a mentor to a sophomore at East and to a foster teen in the district’s program for school-aged parents and she tutors first graders as a Schools of Hope volunteer at Frank Allis School.
Business experience? Check. Mary has started a business, worked for Trek Bicycle, worked as a business consultant and served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Board experience? Check. Mary has served on the Boards of the Foundation for Madison Public Schools, the Madison Community Foundation, the United Way, and the Evjue Foundation, and was a long-time president of the Board of the Boys and Girls Club.
Other relevant stuff? Check. A few years ago Mary spearheaded a study of the operations of the Milwaukee Public Schools at the request of Governor Doyle and Mayor Barrett. She was a finance major at Georgetown (attending long after I graduated) and earned a Harvard MBA.
I have never met Michael Flores. From all I hear, he’s a good person with an appealing personal story to tell. I have a lot of respect for anyone who’s willing to run for the Board. But from what I have read about his background and from what I have heard from him at candidate forums, I don’t believe that Michael is best suited to undertake what I know to be the responsibilities of the job.
I am gratified that Mary is willing to serve on the School Board and to go through a sometimes unpleasant election process to get there. If you live in Madison, get yourself and your picture ID to the polls on April 3 and vote for Mary. It’s a great way to help ensure the kind of School Board and school district that Madison deserves.