Michael Tilley for School Board!

There’s a lot that I could say about why Michael Tilley is a great choice for the ICCSD School Board.  I want to focus on 3 personal qualities that I’ve observed over the last 6 years that Michael has been deeply engaged in our district. (1) Michael is a passionate advocate for justice and inclusion, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our community.  (2) Michael is devoted to thoughtful, evidence-based decision making, even if that leads to uncomfortable conclusions or reconsidering previous positions. (3). Michael is committed to meaningful public discussion of the issues at stake in a school district, and understands the board’s important role in making sure that policy is informed by these discussions. Please vote for Michael Tilley on November 5th!

Special Meeting Tonight

Well, its a good thing that nobody depends on this space for news. I’ve done a poor job of keeping up with the changes in the ICCSD since the late spring. To summarize a couple of big ones: the Board rejected the administration’s final map proposals, and asked the Superintendent to come back in a couple of months with maps that “would lead to better educational outcomes.” That’s an unsatisfyingly vague directive, but its worth noting, on the hopeful side, that the Board did not rescind the Diversity Policy, but instead directed that the superintendent would be freed from meeting its exact numerical goals. I think that’s probably a good thing in the long run, since those goals were impossible to meet in Cluster two, and even getting as close as possible there, and meeting them in Cluster One proved problematic. Michael Tilley, who I’d like to nominate for MVB (Most Valuable Blogger) in the ICCSD, has thoughts about the spirit of the Diversity Policy and why it’s important, here. Michael also has a more recent post, regarding the first round of sketches of maps which the Administration brought to the Board at the last meeting.

I’ll have more to say about those maps, which included either/or proposals for Magnet schools at both Twain and Lincoln later. Suffice to say for now, since my beat is the Southeast Side, that I’m not thrilled that the options for Twain as a magnet likely won’t be implemented in the original time frame, and that the options for Twain as a non-magnet don’t seem to include a notable change in the school’s demographics. And that neither offers much relief for Grant Wood, or Hills.

But, speaking of nominations, this also happened: Board President Sally Hoelscher resigned, effective immediately, a few weeks ago. Since I’m linking to him on everything else, I’ll note that Michael Tilley took this as an opportunity to talk about civility and rational debate as it takes place (or doesn’t but should) in our district. Meanwhile, the Board elected Chris Lynch as the new President and began taking applications for a new member, who they have 30 days (from the former member’s resignation) to appoint. If no appointment is made in the allotted time, a special election is triggered.

There’s been some debate over the question of an appointment over an election. The Press Citizen editorial board split on the question, with some members favoring appointment from a broad field, some favoring appointing Phil Hemingway, the first runner-up in the recent election, and some favoring an election. Chris Liebig has argued that an election is more democratic than an appointment, and therefore better. I see some wisdom there, but am unconvinced. We elect board members to make decisions on our behalf, and according to the bylaws, the appointment of a board member to fill a vacancy is one of those decisions. If we’re accepting a value system that shades things more or less democratic instead of just democratic or not, I still don’t think this is out of bounds, and given how much time we’ve already lost in a very close timetable, I think its more valuable to move forward with an appointment, if The Board can. That’s hardly a foregone conclusion.

In the end, 10 individuals filed applications for the post. One was filed under the name Herbert Hoover. Funny! Of the other 9 currently living and non-pseudonymous filers, 3 were candidates in the last election: Phil Hemingway, Karla Cook, and Jason Lewis, the first, second, and fourth place runner’s up, successively. 5 said that they have no plans to run in the next election, and none said that they definitely did, perhaps because The Board let it be known that they’d give first consideration to applicants not interested in running next time out. Chris remarks in the post above that this would free that board member from “democratic accountability.” That could be true. I’d also argue though that it would weed out candidates merely looking for a launching pad to run from in 2015, and would discourage grandstanding and pandering.

Of those 9 applicants, only two, Orville Townsend and Karla Cook, meet both parts of this criteria, although its far from clear exactly how heavily any individual board members will be weighing either half. Cook also came in behind another applicant, Phil Hemingway, although Phil, despite his excellent attendance record at Board meetings as a community member, lacks prior Board experience. I don’t think that the fact that Cook finished behind Hemingway has to be a point against her. The only binding results form the last election are the winners, and a new election with different candidate might or might not endorse Hemingway so highly. Elections capture the will of a given electorate at a given moment in regard to a given set of candidates, issues, and discourses. But, it does create some noise, and given the tendentious nature of this kind of debate, its possible that The Board may opt for Townsend, who served on the Board in 1986-1989 and has an impressive record of advocacy on the part of minority community members.

The special meeting to try to make an appointment happens today at the ESC. I don’t have a clue how the votes will go, and I’m not making an endorsement here, though I will say that the two candidates who meet the publicly stated criteria are promising. I hope that they can appoint someone, and that it can be done on a 6-0 vote, and that the community member they appoint goes on to help the board do a better job of letting the public know what the implications of the board’s policy choices are, and of publicly weighing the values inherent in those choices.

Update: The Board voted 6-0 to appoint Orville Townsend Sr. to the vacant seat. His application is here.  I think this is a good outcome and am pleased to see the board in complete agreement on an important question.  I wasn’t there and haven’t seen the tape, but I am hearing that the debate was short.  If this weren’t a unanimous choice, I’d be more concerned about that. I think the fact that it was speaks to Mr. Townsend’s impressive record of service and the current members’ shared desire to appoint someone well outside of either of their own rough factions.  both factors suggest that he’ll have an positive impact on the Board.  Mr. Townsend will be sworn in at the Board meeting tomorrow night.

Second update: Chris, here, asks good questions about the idea of neutrality that some Board members cited in support of their choice of Director Townsend, who I think is being sworn in as I write this.  I like Chris’s general point about school board politics being politics in general, and that as such they should be issue-filled. But it seems likely to me that the Directors in question meant Townsend’s neutrality regarding the Board’s current factions, and not regarding any particular issue or ideology or party.  I just don’t see any other way to read the idea of him being a “neutral” choice that makes sense.  Chris also notes in comments that Townsend has the strong support of the Coalition for Racial Justice.  For me, these two things are hopeful signs for Director Townsend’s tenure.