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Candidates on Mayoral Appointment of School Board

TEN mayoral candidates were asked the following question this month. most responded by e-mail. Some entries were lightly edited for length.

“Should the mayor appoint school board members? Why or why not?”

Here are their answers: Tom Barrett (414) 271-8050 (no website available) (via e-mail)

Since 1995, Milwaukee has seen six superintendents pass in and out of the School Administration Building, and each has left after a rocky and brief tenure. To end this culture of instability, I support making the mayor accountable for the performance of the Milwaukee Public Schools. Because the economic future of this city is inextricably linked to the future of our education system, the mayor should have direct input in appointing a school reform board of trustees. Changing the governance structure will put us on the path toward greater accountability, enhanced continuity and — most importantly — better performance by our kids. Regardless of the outcome of state legislation on this issue, I will work as mayor to improve every facet of the public education system in our community. I will seek an active and official role in the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, which is an example of the kind of partnership among education, business and civic leaders that can improve outcomes for kids. Making the mayor more accountable for the Milwaukee Public Schools is not a “magic bullet” solution. There is much work to be done as a community to address all of the problems facing our school system — early childhood education, smaller classes, safe neighborhoods, parental involvement, teacher training and other issues will continue to be critical for the future of our kids. I look forward to being an advocate for the Milwaukee Public Schools and working to improve the system when I am mayor. Vince Bobot (via e-mail)

First and foremost, my campaign pledge to the people of Milwaukee is to reduce the overall property tax levy. I believe the next mayor must set an example for the Milwaukee School Board to follow before a decision can be reached about the governance of our public school system. If the School Board does not follow my lead, mayoral appointment of its members must be publicly discussed and may become a viable option in improving the cost and quality of education in our community. David Clarke (Has filed papers but not officially announced as of Riverwest Currents press time.) Pedro Colon www.pedrocolon.com (via e-mail)

As a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and a candidate for Mayor of Milwaukee, I do not support this idea. Advocates of this so-called reform proposal claim it will add accountability to our school system in Milwaukee. To talk about serious reform in this City’s institutions without addressing the urgent need to eliminate patronage and corruption at City Hall is to invite disaster. At a time when we have begun the healing between School Choice and Public School advocates, this proposal concentrates the power in the hands of the few, leaving all the neighborhood voices behind. Giving more power to City Hall after the string of recent abuses strikes me as a terrible idea for the future of Milwaukee. Real reform does not compromise democratic representation. I am also astounded that Tom Barrett’s proposal for “so-called reform” would immediately disenfranchise all the voters in the City of Milwaukee, and in particular, African American and Latino representation would suffer the most. This is a divisive proposal at a time when we need to unite this City under open and honest government. Pedro Colon subsequently withdrew from the race and endorsed Tom Barret. Frank Cumberbatch www.onemilwaukee.com (via e-mail)

The Mayor of Milwaukee should not be allowed to appoint school board members because it robs the parents of representative government. Is there room for improvement within the school board? Absolutely, but it is the responsibility of the citizens of Milwaukee to demand the necessary improvements by encouraging competent, committed individuals to run for openings on the board, by voting in much larger numbers, and then voting individuals off that fail to perform. Most decisions made by the school board today are decided, after lengthy debates, by 5 to 4 votes. If the Mayor appoints the school board members, they will reflect the agenda of the Mayor’s office and without much debate decide most issues by 9 to 0 votes. This is not democracy. Those with the most to lose by this policy are the poor and the voiceless. Parental school choice has given poor parents hope for their children’s future and has forced Milwaukee Public Schools to improve. If this legislation passes, we run the risk of impeding the progress of or even eliminating school choice and that’s a risk we should not take. As Mayor, I will focus on the children, by forging a partnership with the superintendent to make sure that administrators do more with less; that teachers have all the resources they need to deliver the best education anywhere; that the children understand clearly who is in charge and that the entire community plays its part to guarantee that every child is educated. Sandy Folaron www.sandy4mayor.com (via e-mail)

There are many things the Mayor needs to do for this city. Controlling the school board and our educational system is NOT one of them. The democratic process by which our school board is elected is necessary to give parents a role in their children’s education. The accountability lies within this process. To pass legislation that gives control to a mayor, a mayor that may have predispositions to choice or alternative initiatives, leaves the system unchecked and unbalanced. The board may not always be whatever everyone would like, but it does create discussion and challenging points of argument that are needed to provide both sides of an issue. Representative Shirley Krug uses Chicago as a role model for her proposed bill. The statistics for this program are less than impressive. The high cost of administration, the addition of yet another level of bureaucracy, the turnover of superintendents and the lackluster results of academic testing all say that this is a program that still has a long way to go. As Mayor, I propose a partnership with our school board. There needs to be a collaboration that reaches out to both the elected board members and the superintendent on a regular basis. This could be done through a trustee position or a mayoral position on the Board itself. Education is key to Milwaukee’s future. But we can attain a working balance without a mayoral dictatorship of the system. Martin Matson www.matsonformayor.com (via e-mail)

The mayor should not appoint school board members. The mayor should have a liaison to work with the school board, MPS administration, and the many urban universities in Milwaukee. The mayor’s office can provide focus on programs aimed at getting kids through school and to a secondary education. The mayor already runs a billion dollar corporation, which is the City of Milwaukee. Milwaukee Public Schools, I believe, is almost another billion dollar corporation. Coordination is key, not control. Tom Nardelli www.tomnardelli.com (via e-mail)

I am opposed to the Mayor appointing members to the Milwaukee school board. Such a move would put far too much power into the hands of one person. I am particularly concerned that mayoral appointees would be of one mind and would, naturally, represent the Mayor’s singular agenda for our schools. The result could be an environment in which free discussion and debate is hampered. We have all witnessed the affect of the Mayor’s influence on both the Fire and Police Commission and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. And we know first hand the acrimony that can develop when a mayoral appointee decides to challenge that relationship. The MPS board spends the largest portion of the our property tax dollar and should be responsive to the concerns and interests of the taxpayer. It is by electing the board members that taxpayers and the parents of MPS students have the input they deserve in decisions that affect the quality of education we provide our children. John Pitta www.pittaformayor2004.com (via phone)

Absolutely not, based on my experience as an MPS teacher, with two masters degrees — one in administrative leadership — and as someone working on a PhD in Urban Education with a Superintendent’s license. It is the mayor’s job to fight for resources for MPS children and children in all schools. You don’t need to hire the superintendent and school board to improve education. Also, if an elected mayor doesn’t have experience dealing with educational issues, this could be a tragedy for MPS schools and parents. It would also take the traditional political power away from community members and give it to people who have money. There would be less local control and community involvement. Marvin Pratt http://www.bbami.com/index_files/page0006.htm (four contacts; no response) NOTE: Since last month’s mayoral candidate preview, Vincent Bobot and David Clarke both filed papers to join the ranks of mayoral candidates. Bobot gave up a municipal judgeship to run, and Clarke is currently the Sherriff of Milwaukee County. Answers were compiled by Sonya Jongsma Knauss. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 9 – September 2003