Tomorrow (Tuesday) Grand Rapids residents will elect five members to the school board from list of seven. Four are incumbents: Tony Baker, Wendy Falb, John Matias, and Maureen Slade; the other three are Jose Flores, Jamie Scripps, and Milinda Ysasi.
Without an angry or anxious community, school board races can be dull. For now, the drama has left the stage. At present the school board and the GRPS administration are enjoying success: the most recent teacher contract, powered by far better than expected First Friday numbers makes an upbeat mood; new programs are being launched and civic stakeholders are smiling; and the superintendent is recognized among the best in Michigan.
Of course, there’s work to be done, but it is of the more policy-oriented sort: how does the district begin to get traction on student achievement; how do we raise up students in the face of financial headwinds from Lansing, and the continuing impact of poverty in our community?
When the conversation turns to policy, the challenger’s road becomes steeper, still it’s not as if the candidates have been helping themselves.
Some campaigns have risen to the challenge: Baker and Falb have the strongest public identity, and are closely identified with the current state of success. Matias, too, has some visibility, and enjoys the non-endorsement from the GREA — for the conservatives in the city, this is about as a good a sign as any.
Maureen Slade’s campaign is far more low key. For an incumbent, her vision for GRPS remains remarkably under-developed. One may fairly ask if, at 71, she wants a four-year term. Among the challengers, one can pose a similar question to Flores. This is another campaign by a seasoned school administrator that nonetheless has little in the way of actual visibility. As valuable as he could be as to input, there is little evidence that this campaign is serious.
Two other campaigns are definitely serious, though with weaknesses.
Jamie Scripps brings a strong policy focus, and has won endorsements from some progressive organizations. Still, she has struggled on the basics of campaigning. Hers has been a puzzling low key race, in part one suspects, because of her “outsider” status.
If Scripps struggles with the outsider status, Milinda Ysasi is the opposite: her ability to solicit endorsements is impressive, speaking well of her relationship building and of her progressive creds. Of course, unless one were on her Facebook page, one would never know. What is also clear from the Facebook postings is how her campaign has only recently gotten its act together.
The relative silence of Scripps and Ysasi is a shame. Both deserve far more public recognition. As it is, in the mid-term election, the Scripps name may have the advantage if only because it will seem more familiar (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) to the electorate.