A few years ago, I made one of the most illogical decisions in my life, to run for a public office. I had no political experience, a fairly average voting record, and the only political interest I may have had, was occasionally flipping through the channels on the television and occasionally catching bits and pieces of a biased “news” channel. But something changed in 2009.
A new phase in my parental status was expected to begin following the Labor Day holiday. But a huge cloud was hanging overhead. It was a looming teacher labor crisis, common in school districts all over the country. The climate was mirroring a similar contract negotation within our school district, which resulted in a strike then. All that mattered to Wendy and I though was that it was Madison’s first year in school, and we had no other daycare options available if the teachers would go on strike.
And then it happened. The announcement was made that the teachers would go on strike. A court order mandated that the strike had not been given proper notice and the teachers return to the classrooms. But another walk out would occur incurring the wrath of many in the district, including myself. All I knew was that teachers make enough and only work part of the year. Now before I hear from anyone what a jerk I was, I know it. Like I said, this was uncharted territory for me and I was pissed off not having a firm arrangement for Madison’s care.
The media concentration on the strike was typical. The district presenting their opinions that the teachers were being unreasonable. The union responded that they were frustrated by the lack of understanding and consideration by the district. Back and forth, back and forth. I cannot say what exactly it was that caused this emotion in me, but the school board did something I considered despicable, legal, but despicable. The board authorized the publication of every teacher and guidance counselor’s salaries in a full page color advertisement in several local newspapers. I was infuriated. And just like that, my support flipped completely to the side of the teachers.
This bully tactic did exactly what it was meant to do, raise the ire of the taxpayers and parents. It is common sense that there will be a difference in salaries for teachers with one year of service and those with thirty years. I had no idea what a teacher’s salary was, and though a matter of public record, was no business of mine. My only concern with a teacher was educating my children. At that moment, I had no idea what direction I would go in, but I was going to support the efforts of teachers, learn what the teachers did and the commitments nearly all make in molding our community’s future.
I followed the negotiations very carefully, and then an opportunity knocked. Following a recent school board election, a re-elected board member decided to resign (conveniently after defeating an opposing political party opponent). A replacement would be chosen by the board after soliciting replacement candidates. I made the decision to put my name in. Miraculously, a replacment had been chosen. None of the other applicants had been contacted about the interest or resumes, but the replacement also happened to be from the same political party as the resignee and dropped out of the race prior to the primary so as not to compete with an incumbant. Amazing what happens even when it comes to local politics.
That following January, another opportunity came. An information meeting was held to teach how to run for a public office, in particular, school board. It was attended by people representing both political parties and third parties. A couple of weeks later, I made the decision to officially run for school board. It was an exciting experience for me. Four others made the decision to run with me as a full slate of candidates bent on removing the bullying incumbants and restore respect and dignity within our school district.
Two of our candidates had broken the glass ceiling in being elected. The other three of us, including me fell short of votes by less than 200. Our efforts fell short just because enough people did not feel their votes would count. We ran a clean campaign, and for three of us, it was our first campaign. We had nothing to be ashamed of. It was less than a week later, the three of us made the decision to continue the fight. So I will run again for school board in 2013. A lot of people question the need to do this, especially with the many health issues I have to deal with, but it is simple.
I feel right now, my most important role of being a parent, is to make sure my daughters get the best education possible. For my wife and I, we believe in public education. We both graduated through the public school system. We were both successful because of our education. A free public education is a right of our children just as it was for myself and others, and the generations before. It is our obligation for the strength of our community (and country) to provide a strong and quality education.
There are plenty of disagreements from teacher salaries to school choice. I no longer just look at the actual dollar figure of the teacher’s salary. I do believe in school choice. We should be free, and in my school district, we are free to choose from private schools, Catholic schools, even other elementary schools within the district. And in districts where education is suffering from quality and need, charter schools originally seemed to address those concerns. But charter schools would come at an additional expense to the district, and trickle down to my home in the form of higher taxes. But even more hurtful, limited by state mandate, expenses of adding a charter school could not be covered completely by an equal tax increase, which result in only one thing, cuts. Approval of a charter school in our district will not only raise our taxes, but to make up the rest of the deficit of next year’s budget, our district will have to look at cutting curriculum, programs, and staff. This will effect my daughters’ education in a dire way. They are too young right now to know what their future will be, but they should be offered the opportunities that I had, that everyone had to be able to recognize their potential. And that means offering everything that is possible. If we as a taxpayer are willing to pay a charter school to teach the programs our district is willing to cut, why cannot we keep them in the first place? If we as taxpayers are willing to provide a smaller class size (the main argument made to support a charter school), why is our district so unwilling to make that provision within our school system?
There are plenty of other issues. These are difficult times for education as a whole. Budgets are strained. Expenses rise. But respect, quality, and responsibiltiy cannot suffer for the ill decisions made in the past.
School board director is a volunteer position. It is a lot of hassle, for no pay, a lot of criticism, but knowing that you are helping to mold the minds of the next inventor, the next discoverer of a cure for cancer, the next president. I have made a commitment, and have volunteered the last three years attending most of the school board and sub committee meetings to make myself familiar with the goings on of our school district. It is a monumental task and commitment. But for my daughters, it is worth it. And for my commitment, I believe that everyone else’s children will benefit as well.