PRESS EDITORIAL: Political poison in a school board takeover attempt

“Don’t let politics poison our educational system.”
    The quoted words were the final sentence in a letter to the editor in last week’s Ozaukee Press from a reader who has grandchildren in Mequon-Thiensville School District schools.
    His plea rises from the turmoil in that southern Ozaukee County school district over a campaign to remove four members from the School Board in a recall election that reeks of politics.
    The election will be decided Tuesday, Nov. 2, by voters in the school district, but political forces working to influence its outcome are an alien presence in that local election.
    Endorsers, supporters and campaigners for the recall candidates include far-right political organizations, a billionaire political donor and even Rebecca Kleefisch, Oconomowoc resident and Republican candidate for governor.
    But it doesn’t take a list of the recall organizers’ fellow travelers to see that the attempt to take over the School Board is all about using a local school district and its schools to assert a political agenda, and has nothing to do with the quality of the education delivered by the public schools of Mequon and Thiensville. The phony issues raised to justify ousting School Board members make that plain.
    First it was Covid-19 policies construed to somehow violate the rights of students and parents. This despite the fact that measures taken to inhibit the spread of the virus were all within state and federal guidelines and that those measures worked so well that the M-T district managed to provide more in-person teaching than most Wisconsin districts.
    Then it was critical race theory, CRT, that reigning bogeyman of conservative outrage. This despite the fact that CRT has never been taught in M-T schools and there are no plans to do so. But the recallers and their political backers apparently found frightening evidence of creeping CRT in this statement on the school district website: “We denounce racism; we promote inclusion; we cultivate diversity; we foster a culture of belonging.”
    Perhaps fearing those manufactured issues would not resonate with sensible voters, they came up with a claim that the School Board members should be recalled because M-T schools were failing to maintain high education standards. This must have provoked a good deal of laughter among Wisconsin school officials. The Mequon-Thiensville School District is considered one the best in the state.
    The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s report card for every publicly funded school and school district in the state gives Mequon-Thiensville the agency’s highest accountability rating—Significantly Exceeds Expectations. The district’s Homestead High School is ranked third in educational quality among Wisconsin’s 637 high schools.
    Many school boards are experiencing increased public scrutiny and pressure, much of it related to the pandemic effect on schools, which has energized parents to protest Covid policies they contend are either too stringent or not stringent enough. Contentious meetings and increased competition for elected school board positions are common. School board service is not as comfortable as it used to be.
    There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s how the system is supposed work. School board members are elected representatives. They serve at the pleasure of their constituents. They must face them at their public meetings and in regular elections.
    The M-T recall organizers circumvented that orderly process of school district governance by perverting the intention of the state’s recall statute, which is meant to be a means to remove officials who have committed illegal or wrongful acts in office. None of the board members targeted by the recall have been accused of any improprieties of any kind.
    By law, school board elections in Wisconsin are classified nonpartisan. It is obvious that the Mequon-Thiensville recall election does not meet the nonpartisan standard, but voters can at least make it anti-partisan by rejecting the political takeover of their School Board.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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