Full-bore School Board Elections

Last Tuesday, May 8, was School Board Election Day here in Delaware.  There has been some pressure and lots of talk in the past few years about the idea of repositioning school board elections on the annual calendar to coincide with regular partisan political elections in November.  I, for one, do not believe that this is a good idea.  I certainly do not want to have Dem. candidates for school board squaring off against Rep. candidates.  I do not believe that this would be good for them and not good for our schools.  I like the fact that, so far, partisan politics has had very little to do with these elections.  I think.

As you may imagine, people in my organization, the Delaware State Education Association, as well as some other people, have been concerned about some of the unprecedented operations at work as part of various school board candidates’ campaigns, including the following:

  • The entry of what the News Journal described as “shadowy” entities into local school board elections across the state.
  • The intrusion of influence from both the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) Voices4DelawareEducation’s monies in lieu of what some see as true voices of school district residents and board constituents.
  • The arrangements made for detailed, costly live push polling in early April via phone calls to many, many residents in the Red Clay School District.
  • The use of live GOTV calls in the past few days from professional call centers outside of the state.
  • The clarion call for “generous donations” (for monies to be used in this year’s school board elections) from the 1000 audience members at the State Chamber of Commerce dinner in early January during a keynote speech by Skip Schoenhals, former CEO of a local bank, Wilmington Savings Fund Society, and former head of V2015.

This speech was also carried that same week in the News Journal as an op-ed piece.  Sweet! 

The message was repeated in a recent e-mail from Mr. Schoenhals to hundreds of colleagues and Chamber members.   Members were reminded to pony up and were given the names and addresses and campaign designations for select candidates who “deserved their support” in each of four races (in Red Clay, Christina, Appoquinimink, and Indian River School Districts).

[Never mind if you don’t live in that district; never mind if you have no information about or actual interest in the candidates themselves; never mind if pertinent issues are never discussed or debated.  Just give, and give generously.  And, let Voices4Delaware do your thinking for you!]

The e-mail states: “Voices4Delaware has identified four candidates that it believes meet this standard that are running for school board seats on May 8 in strategically important districts.  They are:

  • District:  Appoquinimink, At-Large Seat

Challenger:  Andrew Cherry, a graduate of Leadership Delaware, is a native Delawarean from New Castle County who graduated from Wilmington Christian School in 2000. Cherry has worked in the banking industry since 2005. He is active in the Republican Party where he serves as Chair of the Colonial Region, and is married with two young children.

  • District: Christina G

Challenger:  Val Harris is a graduate of Leadership Delaware with ties to business and non-profit communities, Ms. Harris is well versed in the Vision 2015 agenda, and started her own non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk minority girls succeed in school.

  • District: Indian River Area 2

Incumbent: Dr. Patricia Oliphant is strongly pro-education reform and ally of a very effective Superintendent.  A former district English teacher, Oliphant has played a leadership role in curricular innovations.

  • District: Red Clay C

Challenger: Joanne Johansen, who works at Christiana Hospital, has two children who attended district schools (K-6) and now attend the Charter School of Wilmington. She has been a PTA leader for many years, and herself is a product of Red Clay schools. 

It is now time to help get these people elected.  Toward that end, I am asking you to join me in contributing up to $600 (the maximum contribution) to each candidate.  (Please see below appropriate address information.)  

School boards are one of the most overlooked entities in the chain of improving our educational system.  While local control is an integral value of our school governance system, we have to make sure that that control is functioning well.  Supporting candidates like these is something each of us can do to directly influence the quality of that local control.  Whether you live in one of these districts or not, improving any district helps improve the entire state.  Therefore I urge you to send a check to each candidate.”

WOW!  This really lays it all out there, doesn’t it? 

  • Finally, the not so subtle article authored by Rich Heffron, on page three of the May/June State Chamber of Commerce magazine Delaware Business.  Check it out for yourself. http://issuu.com/destatechamber/docs/206226_dscc_mayjune12_f/5?mode=a_p    It reminds members about “the importance of local school board elections”—just in time for last Tuesday’s elections.

Again, there is the call to step up and give generously—this time to volunteer to serve on a school board for what might look to some like intriguing but actually rather limited reasons:  “If Vision 2015, Race to the Top (RTTT), and Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) are to be successful, then it is important that dedicated citizens, ones who understand the goals of these programs, and how they can be successfully implemented, run for election to their local school board.”

I could be wrong, but, it would seem to me that the very folks best suited to understand the practical goals of RTTT and STEM, and certainly best positioned to IMPLEMENT the programs would be me and my education colleagues.  I am a science teacher, for God’s sake.  I have been an effective teacher for over 39 years.  It’s always good to have school board members who care about key education initiatives; however, there is a great deal more to being an engaged and effective board member than the desire to have RTT, STEM, and V2015 work out.  Just saying,…

BTW:  We, too, are dedicated citizens.  Chamber folk don’t have a monopoly on dedication. File this under “Leave no stone unturned.”

In reality, this is a calculated response to the fact that school employees—the unidentified special interest groups mentioned in the quote below from the same Heffron article, have been successfully involved in school board elections for the past decade–and why wouldn’t we be?

“In recent years, special interest groups have recognized the opportunity to influence the outcome of these elections through an infusion of money, manpower, and media. This is why the business community must play a role in school board elections.”

Yeah, he’s right—to a point. But it’s our money, our own people power, and media we engage to inform our own members and like-minded voters in a single district—not BIG MONEY from a shadowy and secretive 501(c)(4); not polished professional pollsters and trained call center workers in the mid-west; not slick negative campaign materials that insult and malign the very school board that the candidate in Christina sought to join.  If she had won, guess who would not be welcomed with open arms!  DUH.

As you may well know, we engage in focused, funded campaign activities.  We would never deny that, nor would we feign surprise or disappointment if others used some of the same strategies we employ, or spent money for professionally produced campaign materials, or worked as diligently, energetically, and assertively as we do.  However, our monies come from donations from local district residents and school employees like teachers, paras, food service workers, secretaries, custodians, and bus drivers; from our DSEA member donations to our PAC funds; and from the candidates themselves, as well as their own friends and family members.  The phone calls and robo-calls are made by our members, our local leaders, and the candidate’s friends and family members.  The communications we make are through e-mails to member’s home computers, at local Association meetings, and through internal newsletters with limited readership.

Our locals have strict endorsement policies.  Candidates’ platforms are assessed and compared.  They look at and discuss the issues.  See my earlier post, What’’s It All About, Alfie? to see what our locals most likely look for in a school board candidate.

Our political work is transparent…we file reports in a timely, detailed manner with the state’s Department of Elections.  I guess that we could have gone the “shadowy” c-3/c-4 anonymous route but we think that it’s misleading and detrimental to our state’s civic discourse.  Heck–you know that our printed materials come from DSEA–it says so right on every piece.

And when we do make independent expenditures (not in coordination with the candidate–I wanted to make that clear just in case Steven Colbert is reading this post), we file those in a timely, transparent manner with the state’s Department of Elections. We are proud of what we say and do. We have nothing to fear and nothing to hide.  That may be more than can be said for some of the folks who chose to provide funding for the two Voices4DEEd organizations. Heck, if they came forward and disclosed their names and the amounts and sources of their contributions, then they’d have to face the looks from their neighbors’ and children’s teachers when they drive around town.

I am confident that the candidates who our locals endorsed are ones that would benefit the entire wider school community, not just business interests or those of big money contributors.  Plus, our members support RTTT and STEM, but they also care about the arts and many other vital areas of the curriculum.

I am equally confident that these candidates are not and will never be the stooges, flunkies, patsies, dupes, pawns, lackies, toadies, tools,  foils, dummies, underlings, or minions (I keep a list on my wall of all of the union pejoratives I have heard.) of which some of them will be accused.

I do believe that some candidates who were provided with financial support by the Voices4DelawareEducation funding have possibly been surprised by the aggressiveness of their initiatives and especially by some of the campaign literature that has been produced and mailed on their behalf.  I certainly hope so.

I was told that the one Sussex County school board candidate, who education members there had also chosen to support, was totally befuddled to be the recipient of numerous large dollar checks that arrived in the mail from people at the other end of the state—people who she did not know.

OOPS!  I cannot believe that the V$DEEd folks failed to do their homework on that one.  Is it possible that we saw eye-to-eye about the same candidate???  Aye-yi-yi!

This entry was posted in "Reform Experts", Accountability, Attacks on Unions, Education Unions, Political Action, School Boards, Teacher Unions, Unions. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Full-bore School Board Elections

  1. Excellent analysis as usual, Jenner! This was a learning experience for all involved this year, I think.

  2. Vicki Seifred says:

    I was one who received a “phone survey” and when I asked the caller specific questions regarding their “reform” candidate, I was told “lady, I am just reading a script” and then he promptly hung up on me! Gotta love it!!
    Frederika, you are right on in regards to this experience in our last school board election. Just hope there will be some reform legislation so that these groups will have to be more transparent!

  3. gilda says:

    Great analysis Frederika-thorough and cogent.
    I also received a call, and when I identified as a teacher, there was a hang up from the other end.
    If the paid callers were using a script, there should have been some training for that response other than a hang up!

  4. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina and commented:
    Excellent recap.

  5. Great analysis. Let’s keep turning over those stones and peak underneath. … and pass HB300.

  6. Pingback: My 2012 Year in Blogging | Does Experience Count?

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