Mary Burke for School Board

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.

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27 Responses to Mary Burke for School Board

  1. Peg Scholtes says:

    Too bad you can’t write the job description that accompanies a ballot! Thanks again Ed.

  2. Bryan Bliss says:

    thanks. I took some time to check out your other articles and the feedback in the comments. The more I read of your arguments, the less your logic actually holds up. I havent met you and from all i hear, you may be a nice guy but its clear your previous advocacy for whats ultimately a corporatist/privatizing agenda dissolves my confidence in your credibility. In the decision between Flores and Millionaire Mary Burke its clear that even expensive PR and poorly reasoned endorsements wont make her a better advocate for the kids of the school district than Michael Flores. We dont need any more trojan horses helping Corporate lobbyists kneecap public schools and feed privatization for profit at the expense of our kids future. When are you up for replacement on the board?

    • Mark says:

      Mr. Bliss,

      Wow, 0-60 in TWO sentences — from “you may be a nice guy” to “you are a corporate shill kneecapping our schools and selling out our kids in perpetuity!”

      If you are going to cast aspersions against two leaders in our not-so-big community of Madison, please at least back them up with both reasoning and evidence, even if you are incapable of mustering the courtesy to express the criticism more respectfully.

      Ed & those who come here have made a consistent effort to make this a place for serious, respectful discussion. I haven’t always agreed with his ideas, but I’ve no reason to doubt he speaks and acts in good faith, and you have given me zero reason here If you read the prior blog posts & comments and are unable to recognize and conform to that tone & precedent, I’m sure you can find another venue more suitable for this kind of discussion.

      Ed – just curious, are you going to endorse in the other race?

      • Bryan Bliss says:

        Mary Burke’s experience and “qualifications” are corporations and commerce.
        Corporations are not people.
        Kids are not commerce.
        This race is important because it is a choice
        between corporate interests/privatization profiteering and
        community common sense.
        I dont need to reinvent the wheel and re-argue all the past points and PR
        to know which side I’m on and why.
        The evidence and reason have already been presented and spun.

        mark- dont misquote me.

        Mary Burke is a bad Bet.
        Flores is for the kids not the corporations.

        If the tone of this blog is about campaigning,
        I can play that too.
        but keep your conformity to yourself.
        thank you and have a nice day

      • Mark says:

        Bryan, did you read the entire blog entry? Particularly the section beginning “Let’s run through some of the dimensions of experience that can be helpful for School Board service. Involvement with our schools?”

      • Mark — Thanks for the kind words. As to the other race, my feelings aren’t as strong nor do I think the contrasts in qualifications are as stark. Arlene Silveira is a hard-working and responsible School Board member with whom I often and increasingly disagree. I attended that candidate forum at Warner Park last week and thought Nichelle Nichols presented her views well. I thought her answer to a question about the achievement gap plan was the best of all four of the candidates. If you’re basically okay with the status quo and your highest priority is restoring full bargaining rights for teachers, Arlene’s probably your candidate. If you’re not real happy with the current direction of the Board and the district and think the Board could benefit from some new blood and different ideas, you should give Nichelle’s candidacy a look.

    • Bryan –I was re-elected last April, so, barring recall, my three-year term extends until April, 2014.

      • Mark says:

        Thank you for the response Ed. May I say though, that it struck me as a very artfully worded non-endorsement!

        The thing for me with Nichelle is that I actually haven’t yet heard any of those different ideas from her. But I wasn’t at the Warner forum; I’ll have to find the video feed from it.

  3. Nancy O'Mara says:

    Mary Burke has “put her money where her mouth is” to use a hackneyed expression. She has personally funded the AVID/TOPS program which has been successful at improving achievement for minority,low income teens. She has also worked as a volunteer in publc schools even though she is a single woman without biological children. She has used her wealth to help Madison’s schools,teachers and students. I’ve never had the chance to vote for a better qualified candidate for school board.
    Nancy O’Mara

  4. Torrey says:

    A well-reasoned endorsement Ed.

  5. Hi Ed,

    I haven’t met Michael Flores yet, but did attend a forum to listen to Mary and came away quite impressed with her.

    That said, we have problems in our district. Like most organizations, MMSD has special positions for which “minorities” are considered appropriate candidates; and then there are all the other jobs.

    My position is BOE needs to have the knowledge and perspective of minorities on the Board, not because of political correctness but because the Board simply cannot, and will be far less likely to, make the correct decisions without the understanding that minority reps bring to the table.

    I have a narrow perspective of MMSD history, but I can only name a few minority Board members: James Howard, Johnny Winston, Shwaw Vang, Juan Lopez, Ray Allen, and a couple of some outstanding minorities in staff positions: Atty Clarence Sherrod, and Valencia Douglas. I cannot say I agreed with some of their positions or approaches, but I also noted that the white majorities on the Board at the time often did not learn from or appreciate the importance of the knowledge and perspective these people brought to the Board.

    It really does not matter the good intentions of those on the Board or MMSD administration, being white means not knowing or understanding. There is little that can be done to make the Board more diverse and informed; Wisconsin statutes require at large elections and at most 9 Board members; unlike city councils and county supervisors we’re stuck with the inability to ensure balanced representation or a balanced perspective on the Board.

    PS: I’m not assuming minority reps have the answers either. I confident no one does.

  6. Laura Chern says:

    Ed,
    I appreciate your perspective. Ms. Burke does seem to have much better qualifications than the average candidate for any office. And I believe she does care about education and kids and has done great things for the district. She should be the perfect school board candidate. However, as a voter, I am having a really hard time overcoming Mary Burke’s offer of $2.5 million, if the Board and Urban League could agree to Madison Prep as an instrumentality charter. Was it was meant to be an incentive for the Board to vote a certain way? Was it meant to influence the Urban League? At the very least it was clumsy, making me wonder if, despite her impressive resume, she understands that, to some people, it looked like a rich person, elected by no one, was using money to insure a certain outcome by an elected body. At worst, I think maybe she was trying to influence the board and league by holding out the promise of all that money. Obviously, the Board vote was not influenced in the end but what she did seems unethical. I would appreciate an explanation of her actions regarding the withdrawn Madison Prep donation.

    • Mark says:

      Laura — actually Ed said (in his “closing arguments, pt II” December blog post) that Mary Burke’s pledge did influence him by alleviating his concerns about one of the issues. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that myself, nor do I personally share your concerns about this particular pledge from this particular individual (this is a member of our community that already is active in boys & girls clubs, both time and money — not one of the Walton family folks showering money from afar on advocating voucher programs anywhere & everywhere), but FYI.

    • Nancy O'Mara says:

      Laura and group,
      My understanding is that Mary Burke’s support for Madison Prep was contingent on the understanding that MP would be governed by the MMSD. Without the MMSD’s accountability,she withdrew her support. This makes sense to me because the MMSD has record of running good schools whereas the Urban League does not.
      Nancy O’Mara

      • Mark says:

        Nancy, I’m a little confused about how much control MMSD would have had on the MP non-instrumentality, had the 12/19 vote passed. My impression was that it would have had little-to-no role in “running” the school even then. What is the context of what you said here?

        • Nancy O'Mara says:

          Mark,
          Because Mary Burke offered her finacial support when the Urban League’s proposal was to operate Madison Prep as an “instumentality” of the school district and withdrew it when the proposal was changed to a “non-instrumentality.” Without knowing the defination of “instrumentality,”I am assuming that it means less accountability to the MMSD and the BOE.

      • Mark says:

        Thank you for the reply Nancy, and to Laura for posting the clarification from Mary Burke (below).

        Hmm, if the proposal had passed in December, this would have turned out to be a very critical point. Both you & Mary (via Laura) make it sound like her pledge was perhaps only active when the school was to be an instrumentality. However, Ed’s analysis in his December blog entries — which presumably are part of the thought process he used to come to his decision to propose the 2013 opening — appear to factor in Mary Burke’s pledge even though at that point it was to be a NON-instrumentality.

    • Laura —
      Here’s my understanding of the background of Mary Burke’s contribution to Madison Prep.

      As far as I recall, the only time Mary made her views on Madison Prep known to the School Board was when she was one of many public speakers at one of the early Board meetings to consider the proposal. I recall her saying something along the lines of the Avid/TOPS program was one type of initiative aimed at preparing students for college who otherwise might not attend and Madison Prep could be another such initiative.

      As the Board reviewed the proposal, it became increasingly clear that the school would be expensive. The expense shot up when plans were made to expand Madison Prep to include girls. I wrote about this last September, concluding that the then-proposed cost of the school would inevitably require cuts in other district programs, which was not something I could support. See https://edhughesschoolblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/the-cost-of-madison-prep/

      My understanding is that Mary made the decision to pledge $2.5 million to the school around this time in order to help bring the cost down to a level that could be feasible for the school district. I don’t have any knowledge of what kinds of conditions were attached to her pledge.

      Mary’s promised contribution had the effect of shifting the conversation away from the proposal’s price tag and towards its merits. For me, it caused the principal question to change from can we do this to should we do this. It is hard for me to understand why anyone would find that objectionable.

      Mary never contacted me nor, as far as I know, anyone else on the Board to lobby on behalf of Madison Prep. Nor, again as far as I know, has she been critical of Board members who ended up voting against the proposal. If her intent was to pressure us to vote a certain way, she did a lousy job of it.

  7. Laura Chern says:

    Thanks Ed. The history is a help. Here is what I think:
    Had she offered individual Board members money to vote a certain way, that would have clearly been wrong.
    Had she given money to either the District or the Urban League regardless of the vote, that would have been great.
    Had the vote been for Urban Prep and had she offered the money after the vote, that too would have been great. That isn’t what happened.
    She offered money if the vote went a certain way, giving the appearance that money was being offered based on a certain outcome. To me that is a slippery slope. I appreciate your comment that she removed one point of contention (the cost) – I think that is a very relevant point.
    Don’t misunderstand me. From all accounts, it sounds like Ms. Burke had only the best of intentions and I wish that I could contribute as much as she does (money and time).
    I am still undecided about who to vote for (and I only get one so no big deal to either candidate) but Larry Winkler makes a compelling argument for Michael Flores. Also, Michael Flores has experience entering buildings that other people are fleeing from. That sounds a little like being on the School Board.

  8. I want to ensure Laura and others that my comments should not be interpreted as an endorsement, public or otherwise, of any candidate. What I’m attempting to articulate is a view differing significantly from those who typically might be labeled “conservative” or “liberal”. That diversity of knowledgeable people on the Board, administrative staff, and teaching staff is required as well as openness to listening and understanding of diverse perspectives is required to solve the problems we have. My view is not to support or counter the mindless political rubrics of reverse discrimination, racial quotas, fairness or political correctness, but it is to ensure that ignorance does not prevail.

    Regardless of the outcome of the Board races, the Board needs to actively include the perspectives and truths of others, especially the mostly unrepresented, into the Board decisions, without which there is little hope of solving the problems. The Wisconsin Statutes do not allow us to diversify the Board, such as by neighborhood, school, or ethnicity.

    Perhaps the Board can create and fill multiple non-voting positions on the Board similar to that created for the student rep, to ensure they formally have the benefit of diverse, knowledgeable and representative community members that otherwise do not have a voice.

  9. Laura Chern says:

    Here is Mary Burke’s response to my questions:
    Hi Laura, I saw your posting regarding my quote on including some form of student learning in teacher evaluations. I can understand your concern but I want to reassure you that I see this in a way that is only one part of teacher evaluations that are designed to aid in professional development of knowledge, skills and classroom practices. And, I do not see it being the basis for reducing teacher pay. I also don’t see the measurement as being only things like standardized test scores.

    From the discussions I have had with teacher friends of mine and teachers who came to my listening session last night, I hear time and time again that the system for teacher evaluations in Madison is a joke and don’t help teachers at all and definitely don’t advance student learning. A couple of teachers say they ask for evaluations and don’t even get them. Others say observations are 15 minutes once every three years, hardly an accurate basis for making an evaluation.

    I have done research on what the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Ass feel on the subject. They represent millions of educators and they feel student learning should be included but in a way that promotes teacher development. I have attached a white paper from the NEA that I found very helpful.

    I would be interested in your thoughts.

    With regards to Madison Prep, the financial commitment I made was dependent on the school board approving it and could only be used to reduce the cost to the school district so it did not take funds away from existing schools. It was also at a time when the school was to be an instrumentality of the district, using union teachers. It was also at a time that there were no other plans to address the achievement gap. I don’t believe the status quo is acceptable in our community and as a community we need to come together and address this challenge.

    Please let me know if you have any other issues or I have not answered your concerns. There is a lot of misinformation or partial information out there. Most times the press only prints little pieces of what is said.

    I would ask you to consider posting my response on your FB page.

    Best wishes,
    Mary
    Together For Our Schools

  10. Laura Chern says:

    I wanted to share this as I found her response helpful.

  11. “Mary’s promised contribution had the effect of shifting the conversation away from the proposal’s price tag and towards its merits.”

    If only this were true. Very little of the marketing campaign or conversation were about the questionable merits of the proposal. Of course when you are using graduation rates to sell an IB program, you don’t want the “merits” examined.

    • TJ — I take your point, but I think it’s fair to say that once the price tag for Madison Prep was brought down to a level that could be feasible for the school district, the merits of the proposal moved to the forefront, at least for me. And there was a lot of information available to School Board members about the merits of the proposal, generated and supplied by people on all sides of the issue. For example, I found the information you highlighted that questioned the IB curriculum helpful, though I ultimately did not find it dispositive.

      I think this circles back to my principal point – We want School Board members who are able and willing to dig into the wealth of information available on a significant proposal like Madison Prep and who can make independent sense of it. Mary Burke will be able to do that. Neither you nor I may ultimately agree with the conclusions she might reach, but it’s better to have substantive disagreements expressed in terms of, say, whether the IB curriculum really make sense for a proposal like Madison Prep, rather than having two sides standing on opposite street corners yelling at each other about who’s in the pocket of union bosses and who once attended a conference where a third cousin of the Koch Brothers spoke in favor of school vouchers. Intelligent discussions and respectful though heart-felt disgareements presuppose the independent formation of well-informed and defensible positions.

  12. janeofdane says:

    Frankly, I would like to stick a fork in the Madison Prep proposal and move on to solving the achievement gap. There’s been no evidence that the IB curriculum will close the gap (and quite a bit of evidence that it won’t) and there has been encouraging participation in the community listening sessions set up to discuss the Superintendent’s proposal. If the next school board does nothing but try to resurrect Madison Prep, we are wasting time. AVID/TOPS is showing real promise and I’m eager to see what the community thinks on this subject. It will require a multi-faceted approach and the sooner we get started, the better.

    • Jane — By and large, I agree with you. I am pretty confident that Mary Burke would agree with you as well.

      I particularly agree that there has been encouraging participation in the community listening sessions set up to discuss the Superintendent’s proposal. This may merit a separate blog post, but I think it is notable how, against the odds and in the face of skepticism from the likes of me, Dan Nerad has managed to steer the community conversation about the achievement gap into the productive discussions we have been having about his plan. He deserves a lot of credit for that.

  13. janeofdane says:

    Thanks, Ed. I think the community has a huge role to play in closing the achievement gap.
    I would not be surprised if the best ideas come from the community. These listening sessions can get the community brainstorming on the issue. The contentious Madison Prep battle may have succeeded by placing a focus on this issue.

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