I generally wince whenever I tackle this topic because, while liberals have no ideas and couldn’t execute them if they did, conservatives consistently come up with bad ideas they gleefully thrust upon the rest of us.
And the last thing I want to do is give our rightwing brethren another bad idea.
But my five-year-fear that scheming Tea Baggers were going to start infiltrating our local school boards seems somewhat unfounded. Sure! The occasional ideologue can slip through as the U-46 School Board certainly discovered, but it doesn’t appear to be a trend.
Neither former liberal board member, Traci Ellis, nor batshit crazy current conservative board member, Jeanette Ward, could give a rat’s patootie about the children because it’s always been all about them and their stilted ideological agendas.
Thankfully, Ellis is fading into history’s dustbin and Ward won’t survive the 2019 consolidated election.
But just when you think you’ve finally dodged a political bullet, as is almost always the case these days, an even less appealing alternative rears its ugly head. The combination of a lack of interest in running for a school board seat and perennial candidates who can’t win any other election may be even worse.
Considering that school boards deal with our two most precious commodities, children and cash, they’re already a contentious proposition. But when you add higher office wannabees who insist on making regular partisan political proclamations, the students they purport to serve become nothing more than an afterthought.
Take the East Aurora D131 school board.
Despite the vast challenges facing that heavily minority district, a recent board meeting devolved into a rather acrimonious immigration debate between board member John Laesch and President Annette Johnson.
Laesch, who’s run for everything but homeowner’s association board, wanted to declare D131 an immigration “safe zone,” while Johnson contended it was a “symbolic gesture” that was a complete waste of the board’s time.
And Johnson is right.
Not only does the Illinois Trust Act prohibit any law enforcement agency from detaining anyone based solely on their immigration status, but Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin has made it abundantly clear that every citizen of the City of Lights will enjoy all the protections that local and state law afford them.
Of course, when he didn’t get his way, the debate descended into Laesch accusing Johnson of opposing all of his initiatives while he insisted that “we have to take a stand.”
No! You don’t!
The only stand an East Aurora board member ever has to make is on what’s best for a very challenging student body. And immigration safe zones are clearly at the bottom of the list. It’s hard enough serving as a school board member as it is, but when that dialogue is co-opted by ideologues on either side, it becomes exponentially more difficult to do the job.
The problem is, short of encouraging more regular folks to run for school board, the very definition of a Herculean task, I don’t see a simple solution to this perennial-candidate-settling-for-a-school-board-seat phenomenon.
Who wouldn’t want to serve on a school board when you get to regularly enjoy:
- A time-consuming and unpaid gig
- A thankless position with plenty of criticism and no compliments
- Angry parents who think their little darlings do no wrong
- Angry senior citizens who believe they shouldn’t have to pay for schools
- A state that loves to come up with unfunded mandates
- Teacher contract negotiations
- The fact that it’s not a stepping stone to any other elected office
Short of threatening people into running, our best choice would appear to be imploring school board members everywhere to remember that it’s always about the kids and never about partisan politics.
Since that’s not likely to work – you can never convince an ideologue that they’re an ideologue – perhaps it’s time to adopt the CPS methodology where school board members are appointed and not elected.
I know these kinds of political appointments are generally fraught with patronage peril. But since there’s absolutely no benefit to serving on school board, other than the thrill of public service, it just might work. And we might start attracting the kind of talent that, but for running a campaign, would be happy to lend their expertise and serve.
Considering what’s going on now, it’s something that’s certainly worth considering.