John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band – Gimme Some Truth
There has been some talk among the AMPS participants about doing retrospective analyses of the recent election and the press coverage of that election. Watch for those in the coming weeks. Retrospective analyses have their place, but there is something to be said for striking while the iron is hot. The Isthmus retrospective published Thursday is certainly hot, as in “liar, liar pants on fire.” This is long, but I think worth doing.
Titled “Mandate for New Thinking,” Jason Shepard’s latest stretches the truth well past the breaking point.
Let’s start at the top. The title refers to a mandate but even the Isthmus editors can’t bring themselves to identify what the supposed mandate was for and instead fall back on the meaningless phrase “new thinking.” The only candidate pictured or quoted is Maya Cole; this implies a connection between Ms Cole and the titular “mandate” (a connection made explicit in the final paragraph). Ms Cole deserves congratulations for her victory, however that victory can hardly be called a mandate. Among the victors, Ms Cole garnered 8,268 fewer votes than Johnny Winston Jr. and 8,257 fewer than Beth Moss. Ms Cole was not the big winner on Tuesday.
The quotes from Ms Cole in the first paragraphs are the usual half-truths about “ineffective governance,” “budget[ing] to crisis” and vague calls to “get away from that model.” I say half-truths because there is a crisis and there is ineffective governance but the vast majority of the ineffective governance is at the state level and the clear cause of the crisis is the broken state finance system.
The next paragraph asserts that Passman was better financed. This may be true; it may not. There is no way of knowing until the July campaign finance reports are in. This is sloppy reporting to say the least. It also portrays Passman as having run “mainly on the issue of inadequate state funding for public schools.” Passman certainly used her campaign to call attention to this truth, but the main message of her campaign was that her many years of experience as an educator would be an asset in the difficult decisions forced on the district by the broken state finance system.
More half-truths in the following paragraph:
Her victory marks three consecutive years in which voters have picked more reform-minded candidates over those backed by the teachers union and political establishment. And given the union’s failure to endorse Johnny Winston Jr., who handily won re-election, it’s the first time in a generation that a majority of board members are not endorsed by MTI.
First, in each of the last three elections the voters have picked as many or more candidates associated with the Board’s current majority as they have with those Shepard calls “reformers.” Johnny Winston Jr. did not enjoy the support of MTI this year, but I think it is a stretch to associate his victory with an anti-MTI vote.
The next paragraph misrepresents Beth Moss’s positions in order to paint her victory as one with Ms Cole’s.
Beth Moss’ big victory on Tuesday brings to three the number of MTI-endorsed candidates, although she took pains in the campaign to stress her independence, advocating for teacher health-insurance changes and new charter schools.
I don’t know about “taking pains to stress her independence,” but certainly Ms Moss did try to counter the almost unrelenting portrayal — by Mr. Shepard and others — of MTI endorsed candidates and Board members as puppets of John Matthews. A review of recent votes and statements of current board members who have been endorsed by MTI should make it clear that none are marionettes. It also needs to be noted that at every opportunity Ms Moss expressed her pride in having the support of Madison’s organized teachers. Her opponent did little but tout his “independence.” On health insurance and charter schools I think a review of Ms Moss’s statements is in order.
On the Daily Page
Running for seat 3, Beth Moss, endorsed by MTI, says she favors winning changes through negotiations.
From the MTI Questionaire
Do you agree that the health insurance provided to District employees should be mutually selected through the collective bargaining process?
X YES NO
These are almost exactly the positions of the current Board majority and at every point Ms Moss made it clear that under the QEO any relief from budget cuts via teacher health insurance savings would be extremely minimal. This is a reality that the Isthmus, some Board members and candidates have done their best to obscure.
From the Campaign Web Site
I think that it’s very important for the Board to be open to new ideas, and I believe that the expansion of charter schools might have a place in our district. We have to be sure that they fit within a long-range plan for the whole district and that the innovation will benefit the entire district. I will make decisions based on what is best for the district and all of our students. Nuestro Mundo is a great success and shows that our district can support a program that offers an alternative style of teaching and learning.
Charters are one important way that districts can address persistent problems or refine approaches that may benefit the entire district, but they aren’t the only way. Magnet schools and embedded programs can serve the same purposes and have the advantage of being fully integrated in the district and not positioned as competing institutions. Appleton and other districts offer a variety of charter schools, magnet schools and embedded programs. If elected, I will use these to study potential innovations in Madison.
I applaud those parent and community groups who have worked to bring their vision to Madison in the form of charter proposals. I hope they continue to apply their dedication to working to improve education in our community.
From the MTI Questionaire
Do you oppose:
The use of public funds (vouchers) to enable parents to pay tuition with tax payers’ money for religious and private schools?
X YES NO
The expansion of Charter schools within the Madison Metropolitan School District?
X YES NO
Only if sustainable, long-term funding sources are used for a charter school so that it does not cost more per pupil for operating costs, and if the charter addresses persistent needs in the district or holds great promise as a source for piloting programs that would benefit the entire district would I be supportive.
The only place I could find Ms Moss “advocating” charter schools is another paraphrase by Mr Shepard
How anyone can call the above statements “advocating” is beyond me.
The next paragraph praises Ms Cole’s “new approaches” as a “a welcome change from the springtime ritual of torturous budget hearings.” The closest thing I’ve heard from Ms Cole to a change from the yearly budget stresses is a call for drafting a five or ten year plan. As best as I can see, this wouldn’t replace the yearly budget fights, but supplement it with another venue for “parents, children, teachers and support staff [to] wait patiently for hours to yell, beg and cry about budget cuts.” I can see some good coming out of this in the form of a discussion about our priorities as a community and in the light it would shine on the draconian cuts needed to address the structural deficits built into the current state finance system. Still, the law dictates and annual budget process and for the foreseeable future (absent reform at the state level) that process will be tortuous. I’m not opposed to new ways of looking at five and ten year budgeting, but I am realistic about what they have to offer.
This whole “new approaches” and “innovation” discourse brings to mind a political truism: The unnamed candidate almost always polls better than any named candidate. In this case it is the unexamined “new approach” or “innovation” that polls better than confronting real choices.
This slipperiness continues in the next paragraph, which identifies the choices before the Board with “feed[ing] impressions that Madison schools are facing a fiscal crisis, eroding educational quality.” Shepard doesn’t quite say that we aren’t facing a fiscal crisis, that educational quality isn’t in danger of eroding, but there is an implication that those who believe this are crying wolf.
This is followed by the first quote from a sitting Board member, Lawrie Kobza. As Cole was the only candidate quoted, the only Board members quoted (Kobza, Lucy Mathiak and Ruth Robarts) were Cole supporters. I believe Fox News calls this “fair and balanced.”
Skipping ahead (aren’t you glad), three paragraphs later the cause of budget problems is identified as “district’s estimated 4.7% salary and benefits increase for employees.” As usual Shepard fails to place this in the context of the QEO or mention the salary increases earned due to seniority or educational attainments. Blame the teachers, blame the union…half-truths.
Now we come to the portion on Carol Carstensen’s referendum proposal. Ms Kobza is quoted as saying it was “incredibly destructive,” Ms Mathiak portrays it as election ploy designed to garner support for certain candidates and “not a plan. It’s a Band-Aid.” There are no quotes from the many parents and community members who have expressed appreciation for Ms Carstensen’s effort to present a choice to the voters. I’m not sure what this proposal destroyed, but I am sure that at least in the case of the Beth Moss campaign the proposal was not seen as a gift. I worked closely with Beth Moss throughout the campaign, but I don’t speak for her. However, from my observations Ms Moss, like the parents and community members, understood that Ms Carstensen sincerely desired to give our community the means to avoid some of the most difficult budget cuts and offer a vision for not only conserving what is good in our schools, but expanding and restoring the good the schools do. I believe Ms Moss also found it personally difficult to say — whatever merits the proposal might have — the timing was wrong and she could not support it. Did she benefit from this? I have no idea. Did Ms Passman benefit from her support for the proposal? I have no idea. Ms Mathiak’s labeling it a “Band-Aid” is another half-truth. Any solution that doesn’t address the serious problems with the state system is a Band Aid, however Ms Carstensen’s proposal was structured in a way that by authorizing progressive and recurring authority to exceed the revenue caps would have provided long term relief for our district. Ms Mathiak should know that.
The closing paragraphs return to the false promises of solutions via “a better way” and “out of the box thinking.” I’m not holding my breath.
What I am doing is continuing to work for reform at the state level, beginning work on a operating budget referendum campaign, making my voice heard on which cuts hurt the least and which do irreparable damage…I’m continuing to work inside the box, within the system we have, to make our schools the best they can be.
Thomas J. Mertz