Back in 2009, as my older daughter was preparing to begin first grade, our school district was in turmoil. The teachers were in the process of negotiating a new contract, and the school board had chosen some very unfortunate methods in dealing with the teachers and the negotiations. Someone from the school board felt it was wise, to take out a full page color ad in the local newspaper, stating the salaries of every teacher, guidance counselor, and school nurse by name. The intent was clear, to rally the community against the teachers, and against any opponents challenging school board members in the next election cycle.
It was a huge mistake for them. A sleeping and ignorant giant had been woken. Like most, up until that moment, I was like many, who had no knowledge of school district operations, and just exactly what is expected of a teacher, which is what makes them worth every penny they are paid (and this was before the constant school shootings we expect our teachers to die for, or be exposed to lethal viruses). If there was one thing about me I knew and despised, it was bullying. And I knew from experience not only when someone was being bullied, but what was behind it.
And so, I attended my first school board meeting, actually my first public meeting ever, just to see what was going on. That first meeting was all that was needed, to set me on a path I never saw coming, running for a public office. There were nine bullies on this board, five were going to be up for re-election, and all five needed to go.
There were several problems that I was about to face as I began the process of campaigning for one of the school board director positions. One, I HATE POLITICS! This was a war cry my campaign cringed every time those three words left my lips. But I was not a politician, and that was the reason why I kept repeating this credo. Another big problem was that our country is mainly a two party political system by majority, something our forefathers warned against (please note, there is a difference between understanding history and not being political). I was an independent registered voter. And with my state being closed for its primaries (being only able to vote for those in your registered party), an independent candidate has an uphill climb to get to the general election. I would have to swallow political “poison” and force myself to choose a side, neither of which I believed in 100% to have a chance. And even this decision was not mine to make as the incumbents on the board, were all Republican, who all had a grip on their seats for decades. Clearly I would not be able to unseat them as a conservative. I had no choice, but to run as a Democrat, and changed my voter registration to do that.
There was one final hurdle to get over. Other well known candidates had tried to go against these power hungry bullies, and lost. There is an expression, “strength in numbers.” That saying applied in this case. Often, only one or two candidates would run against the entire slate of the other party, clearly leaving them outnumbered, out-fundraised, and out-campaigned.
And with that, I met four of the most wonderful and diverse people, a tech guy, an accountant, a lawyer, and a retired school teacher. But we shared one thing in common, we all had a direct connection to our school district besides being a taxpayer. We were either graduates of the district or parents of students either currently in school or graduated. Our greatest quality amongst ourselves, we could communicate with each other, and respected each other. Better yet, spoiler alert, after all was said and done, we became great friends.
We came up with a campaign slogan and theme, from the least likeliest source, and least qualified, me. We were taking a step like none others to change this school board. We were taxpayers who wanted accountability, but we also had responsibility to the children to do what was best for them. And the current situation was not accomplishing that. Things were not progressing as they needed. And that is how I came up with “1st STEP – Students and Taxpayers Expect Progress.” And while as the least qualified on this slate, I was shocked, by group consensus, this was how our campaign would begin.
At this point, I still felt pure, in that my effort had nothing to do with politics, which I was fine with. My running mates were all registered Democrats, so I left the political crap up to them. I was focused on my targets, the bullies sitting on the board. I was not going to lose sight. And then this happened.
Our campaign had started to get the attention from the incumbents. This photo is the front side of a political mailer sent out attacking us. To be clear, I have had disagreements with people in my life, but never on this level, and by complete strangers no less. The intent was to imply that myself and my running mates and I had the support of the teachers, who clearly had been abused by the current board. This would come in the form of an “endorsement.” But the bigger issue, was the optics of this political piece, meant to shock the community. Oh, it shocked the community alright. Using a photo, depicting violence, involving a school body, sent outrage of inappropriateness across the country. That’s right. The local news picked up on this, and the bumbling interviews they did with the incumbents running for re-election showed their plan had backfired, badly. Though, they still stood by their effort.
This was the catalyst that finally brought a movement of change and decency to our school board. Unfortunately, all five of us had lost our bid for school board, but collectively with less than 500 votes, three of us losing by less than 200 votes. We had gotten the attention of the voters in the district.
We would take one more shot two years later, with our relentless efforts to expose what we thought was wrong with the district operations, and what we could do to improve them. Two of our candidates won their seats that year, with a third, just barely losing, again by a small margin of votes, that all it would have taken were some people to think their vote would have counted, it would have. She would run again, and this time not only make it on to the board, but become board president. In fact, the entire board has changed over.
I have since bowed out of politics all together. Though, with students still attending school in the district, I feel I still had a right to express my concerns, and when needed, speak up in defense of our school board. With the boorish behavior of so many attending school board meetings speaking up during public commentary, as was typical, those who felt the board was doing right, either did not attend, or did not feel the need to speak up. Most figured that these negative speakers were doing themselves their own disservice, and nothing further needed to be said. To a degree, that was true. But just as I got involved back in 2009 when my daughter started school, I was not standing for this abuse in my daughter’s senior year.
I do not envy my fellow campaign members, in their roles of volunteerism, that’s right, their position on school board, subject to all kinds of verbal harassment and abuse, was volunteer. Two have since passed away, and one is currently a local judge. I still keep in touch with those who are still with us, and consider them friends. Wherever they all end up, I will always say proudly, I knew them when they started their ride.
But now, it is time that I close this chapter for me. And it was a fun ride.