Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

The Party of Self-Destruction

Once again in the recent school board election, the conservative wing decided to self-destruct. In this case, by making union support the deciding issue.

So late last week came this card:

Two flaws present themselves:

First, there is the delicious faux populism, comparing average  salaries: teachers $55,000, and “the average salary for you and me” of $33,000. This latter number is something of a mystery, to wit: per capita (i.e. individual) income in the metro area is roughly $33,000 and $20,800 in the city– but that’s calculated spreading total income over total individuals. A more realistic number is that of Household Income, and here too the numbers are off. Median Grand Rapids income is $43,900. Not to belabor this, but the “average salary” seems to be an entirely fabricated number.

And then, there is the over the top language, “Stop the Union Takeover ….” The issue at hand for the school board is not the question of Reform, or Excellence, but of the dreaded teachers and their union, the conservatives whipping boy/gal de jour. Now in fairness to the mailer, this sort of approach is a motivator for the conservative side of the fence, a fear-mongering, yes, but a motivator all the same.

Still, it is so fundamentally stupid. Stupid, for misreading the situation (none believe that Raynard Ross or Monica Randles are tools of the union — at least none who have met them).  But even more so, for how it corrupts the discussion that must take place. Grand Rapids Public Schools is up against financial constraints and the challenge of preparing children in poverty. This will take a coalition drawn from across the community. And one member of that coalition will most definitely be the teachers. Given that, where — why?– does one gain by attacking teachers?

Sadly, the post card is a microcosm of the same political notion at work in our state, notions that imagine that there is something like a free lunch when it comes to education. The attacks on teachers and even the notion of public schools to judge from some both function to degrade the schools we have, and leave our children and our community under-prepared for tomorrow.

Filed under: Elections, , , , , ,

Mapping the School Race (and our City)

As so often happens, the School Board election, now concluded, functioned as a sort of proxy conflict for various parties in the city.

There were two challengers  from the civic-Dem coalition: Raynard Ross and Monica Randles, both enjoying endorsement and monetary support from the Kent County Dems and the local education union.

Opposed has been a cluster of candidates favored by the Chamber/GOP interests: incumbent Catherine Mueller, a leader in the present direction of the schools; one enjoying fairly explicit Republican support, David Clark; and a representative from the older, broad civic leadership cadre, former Urban League president Walter Brame.

The conventional read on such a split is that of a division between those supporting the GRPS administration and Bernard Taylor, and those favoring a change of direction and emphasis. It is better, perhaps to think of the divisions taking place along two axes:

Axis One: Reform v. Continuity

The obvious split is between Taylor and the teachers (and their allies). This, however masks the underlying issue. Like him or not, Taylor has pushed a number of reform issues focused on the general schools. Teachers and parents from the specialty programs have pushed back. This battle has been fought along several fronts, beginning with a real rift between the administration and the teachers, a rift further compounded by the consolidation of programs and closures of schools — both creating great displeasure on the west side of the city. The split gets fought over essentially educational policy issues, such as H grade or blended classes, overlay this with the conflict between Taylor and the teaching staff. For the neighborhoods this is a question of preserving conventional traditional schools, for teachers there is the continued disruption made all the more painful of the way things once were. For residents and staff alike the memory of what once (imagined) was, serves as a sort of grief. This was the axis of the last school board battle, and it has taken the same shape in some unfortunate ads this cycle as well.

Axis Two: Sending v. Stakeholder

But there is a second division that is no less significant for Grand Rapids Public Schools, that of the division between the sending community — those homes that have their children in the general education programs of the school system — and the stakeholder community with children in specialized, charter, schools  of choice or private settings. This latter division is one riven by issues of race and class. The sending community is predominantly, overwhelmingly minority and poor; the stakeholder community is better off, conventionally middle class, with many choosing to stay in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, Horace Mann, , , , , , , , ,

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