Here’s a confession: I am disappointed to read that Governor Walker’s two sons are going to live with their grandparents so that they can continue to attend Wauwatosa East High School next year, rather than move into the Governor’s Mansion with their parents and transfer to Madison East High School, the school my children attended.
I’m disappointed not because I was looking forward to the hazing those Walker kids would get. Instead, cock-eyed optimist that I am, I was hoping that the Walker kids would have a good experience at East (henceforth “East” refers to Madison East, not Tosa East).
I don’t know anything about the Walker boys and I can certainly understand why they wouldn’t want to change high schools if they are happy where they are. But East has some fine programs; I expect that East students would quickly be able to relate to the new students on the basis of who they are rather than to whom they are related; and I expect that East teachers would act with the degree of professionalism we’d all expect in helping the new students with their transition. Yes, yes, I know – that may all be too much to hope for in these deeply polarizing times.
Mainly, I’m sorry because the district can always use additional enrollment. Our state funding and our state-imposed spending limit are both dependent upon our student count.
More importantly, the promise of a public school system is that it serves all the children of the community. To the extent that Madison families decide that our schools are not the best choice for their children, our public schools are diminished and, to my mind, the social fabric becomes a bit more frayed.
The importance of our schools serving all the children of our community makes our recent political unpleasantness so concerning. Our school district and our individual schools should not be viewed as officially or unofficially espousing a partisan political ideology, regardless of how strongly many of us feel about recent events.
I want Madison parents who are supporters of Governor Walker (and there are some!) to feel as comfortable, or at least almost as comfortable, sending their kids to our Madison public schools as the parents whose political views are diametrically opposed to the governor’s, or the parents who don’t know Governor Walker from Johnny Walker.
This underscores how the school district is different from Ian’s Pizza. A business in a competitive field doesn’t have the opportunity to serve the whole market and is fighting for a bigger piece of the (not necessarily pizza) pie.
In this situation, it can make business sense to develop a brand associated with a particular political position, since, if done well, this can bring the business more in revenue attributable to new customers who agree with the position than is lost in existing customers who disagree with the position taking their business elsewhere.
Ian’s appears to have done a great job of this (it may be that in Madison the macaroni-and-cheese-pizza-loving Republican demographic isn’t so large to start with). I have no reason to believe that their activities have been driven by the somewhat cynical calculation I outline rather than sincere belief and commitment to the cause.
But things are different for the school district. Our charge is to serve everyone. We start out with the whole pie, more or less. If we are viewed as adopting a partisan political position, we can only lose.
Some parents will be sufficiently turned off that they will look for other school options for their kids. We’re unlikely to get those families back.
On the other hand, we don’t stand to gain much from supporters. Parents who, say, already send their two kids to our schools and who really appreciate the political stance they view the school district as taking won’t be so enthusiastic as to send four kids to our schools as a result. Our supporters’ desire to send more business our way tends to be limited by biology.
So, among the other delicate tasks the School Board faces, we are called upon to respond appropriately to political events while remaining essentially non-political. We need to show support for our teachers and staff as they get kicked around politically, while we try to maintain and promote a school system that is perceived as welcoming to all, including to the children of the politicians doing the kicking around.
That turned out to be just too great a challenge when it came to the Governor’s sons. I’m sincerely sorry that they won’t be joining us. Here’s hoping that they have successful and rewarding years at that other East.