Mama Madison: School board cred

Paying attention and getting involved in an important election

I didn't agree with Dave Cieslewicz on everything when he was Mayor. I think trolleys are quaint and charming, but they might best be reserved for the "Neighborhood of Make Believe" on Mr. Rogers. And he certainly got the Edgewater debate off on a really bad foot by publicly questioning the value of the Landmarks Commission. Calling knowledgeable citizens, some trained historic preservationists, "a handful of unelected people" with power that is "fundamentally undemocratic," isn't a great way to launch a public discussion on the merits of a project.

But I've enjoyed much of his blog, Citizen Dave. I especially liked his post last week

calling out MTI's executive director John Matthews' comment in the Cap Times regarding candidate Mary Burke's appropriateness for the school board given that she isn't a parent.

The idea that only folks who have had kids are capable of making the difficult decisions board members face is ridiculous. Board meetings are often about policy, budgeting, debt refinancing, and revenue caps. It's about skill sets and the patience to wade through a forest of spreadsheets and proposals -- I'd be beyond terrible at it. Compassion and empathy, while important, are not enough.

In some ways, I think it's entirely possible that not having his or her own children could make someone a very effective school board member. As a parent, it's sometimes difficult for me to separate my own children's needs from those of other members of their classroom communities. I can't even imagine having to extrapolate this out to the 25,000 kids in the district. We parents are a caring breed, and I admire the mothers and fathers that have stepped forward to serve or consider serving on the board. But it's more than just mother or fatherhood that will make a candidate, and the board, successful.

With three kids in the district, I am pleased that there are two contested races for school board this spring. The discussions these campaigns are stirring up are ones I need to be involved in as the city of Madison is only as strong as its public schools -- both perception and reality. But I don't want to limit my chance to get to know the four candidates to what gets dropped off at my door.

Fortunately, there are forums scheduled all over town, 10 more in total, so that anyone who is interested in getting a chance to speak with the candidates can do so in person. I'm planning on attending the discussion Isthmus Publishing and Sustain Dane are co-hosting on Monday, March 19 at the First Unitarian Church. It should be both informative and refreshing to hear the candidates' take on green practices as well as other vital issues for the district.

I'm looking forward to a discussion that will help me to better understand the candidates beliefs and differences beyond the biographical info, parental statuses, and endorsements I can read on their websites.

I need to be engaged in person. And because I'll be home in Madison, I plan to vote the same way. But if you're travelling, remember to request your absentee ballot [PDF] . The School Board election takes place on Tuesday, April 3 -- right smack in the middle of spring break.

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