Madison needs and deserves a robust debate next spring over the future of its public schools. So do other communities across Wisconsin.
But that won’t happen if few people—or none at all—run for these important leadership positions. Insults and intimidation from obnoxious critics of health protocols, “critical race theory” and police in schools are scaring away good candidates.
Witness the loudmouths in communities such as Burlington and Kenosha who have shut down school board meetings over mask and vaccine mandates during the deadly pandemic. Or consider the screaming protesters who pressured Madison to pull its cops from high schools despite violence and weapons.
A civil debate over our K-12 schools is needed, not a shouting match that undermines our democracy by chilling community input and involvement.
For the first time in a decade, only one candidate ran for an open seat on the Madison School Board last spring. At the same time, the only incumbent up for reelection ran unopposed. That meant the public was robbed of a healthy debate and choice as it seeks to guide the education of its children.
The pandemic may have deterred some from seeking office. But the open seat on the Madison School Board was created when the board president retired after being taunted in foul ways outside her private home. Can you blame her? A school board member in Beaver Dam similarly resigned this fall, citing safety concerns for his family.
It’s also possible that controversy over COVID-19 rules and racial discussions in schools could prompt more people to launch bids. We hope more candidates seek office, though partisan politics infecting school decisions is disturbing.
Some good news came last week when recall attempts failed against four incumbent school board members in Mequon, north of Milwaukee. Thousands of dollars in out-of-state money influenced the race, which drew national attention.
Wisconsin has experienced recall attempts against 36 school board members in 16 districts (mostly related to COVID-19 restrictions) since the pandemic began, according to Middleton-based Ballotpedia. That was the highest number in any state except California, which is seven times larger than Wisconsin.
Rather than trying to recall public servants in the middle of their terms, the time to run for office is in the regular spring election.
Prospective candidates should start gearing up now by visiting schools, honing their platforms, speaking to neighbors and seeking endorsements. Candidates can begin collecting nomination signatures Dec. 1. They’ll need as few as 20 signatures in small school districts, or more than 100 in larger cities such as Madison, by Jan. 4. The spring primary is Feb. 15. The general election is April 5.
School board candidates are officially nonpartisan, which is good. They’re basically volunteers. In Madison, members make $8,000 a year for what can feel like a full-time job.
Madison’s schools were closed most of last year to in-person instruction, which frustrated many parents and students. Most other districts found ways to safely educate their children in person despite the virus.
Since police officers were pulled from Madison’s high schools, troubling violence has occurred. Property taxes are up 9%. Achievement gaps persist. The district’s many challenges and its successes deserve lots of attention. That will require candidates.
Schools are essential to the health and success of every community, large or small. Please consider running this spring if you are passionate about the future of our children.