Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The New, Stark Reality Of School Board Elections In New Jersey

From former Highland Park School Board President Sharon Krengel  

Dear Darcie,

You didn’t lose the school board election yesterday. Turns out you never had a prayer – but that was through no fault of your own! It was because your name came out of a hat fourth out of four candidates for three seats on our local board. The numbers clearly show that many people chose to vote 1, 2, 3 on the tiny section of the ballot devoted to the school board election, right over the red button everyone had to push to cast their votes.

Our town, like many others, agreed to the Faustian bargain proposed by the governor last year. We moved our school board vote to Election Day so that we would no longer have to submit our school budget to voters. There are sound arguments in favor of this – why do voters have a say in school budgets, when they don’t vote on municipal, county or state budgets? Why should the school district pay for  a separate, costly election with low turnout?

But there are arguments against this change, too. We saw the most distressing one play out yesterday. Voters did not take the time to learn about the four candidates, the issues plaguing our schools, the state of public education in NJ. They walked into the voting booth and selected 1, 2, 3, down the line, without a thought.

Why would that happen? Is it because there is too much noise during a regular election season, and no space for non-partisan school board candidates to be heard? Is it because there are many people in every town who are too busy or too disconnected from the public schools to become educated about a school board race before casting their votes? Is it because some people don’t grasp how important local governance of our schools is – to our entire community as well as to our young people?

We don’t know the answers yet, but we’d better figure them out if we care about our schools and our town.

Which brings me back to you. You have a deep understanding of what our public schools are facing – in fact, you’ve been nationally recognized for it. You understand the peril – yes, peril – of the corporate “reform” agenda espoused by the current governor and Department of Education.

You know how incredibly important resources are, especially for schools serving students who are hungry, who don’t have an adult advocate, whose families are experiencing very hard times – the list of challenges goes on and on, unfortunately.

You know what many more standardized tests, connected with the “national curriculum” NJ has adopted and is beginning to impose on local districts, will mean for our students and our teachers and how it will narrow our curriculum, especially in arts education which is cherished here.

You know how important it is to fight off the charterizing agenda meant to weaken our public schools and usurp local control in order to privatize public education. Will that last sentence sound overly heated to some? If so, they need to read your blog!

There are additional issues afflicting our schools – the superintendent salary cap that has driven dozens and dozens of excellent, experienced administrators out of NJ, the war on teachers, the voucher bill that rears its ugly head every few months. Are we ready to deal with all this and more? Not if this is the way in which we elect our school board.

I’m ashamed of our town today. And my level of concern for our schools – already high – is through the roof. But I’m not worried about you. I know you’ll continue your crusade in support of public education. I’m worried for the rest of us.

Thank you for what you’ve already done for our schools and community, and for your unceasing attempts, along with those of your dedicated running mates, to educate our fellow residents. 

In solidarity, Sharon

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