The first candidate’s forum was a great evening. Our hosts, Father Chip and Pastor Paul, provided a fair format with 6 questions randomly selected from a total of 8. The 60 or so in attendance were engaged before, during, and after the discussion with great follow-up questions and commentary. And, in my opinion, all six of us did well up there despite this being everyone’s first ever campaign.
Even though there are two incumbents in the mix, Josh Barrow was appointed six years ago and both he and Ida Green ran uncontested four years ago. To go from an uncontested race to having six folks on stage trying to win three seats is a testament to how important this year’s election really is on both our small, local stage and of course, the national one as well.
What I am most excited to report is that this first forum kicked off a meaningful conversation about the necessary structural changes that every voter must consider in order to overcome our current cultural, financial, and legal challenges. As I said last week…
My goal is to raise the structural conversation at the district level without upsetting everyone I respect on both sides of the situation.
To continue that conversation, I want to call out three key topics that we should all consider, voters and candidates alike. They were touched upon in the first forum and will certainly be expanded upon at the next two candidate’s forums on Wednesday, October 17th at the Cruising Club and Thursday, October 18th at Bayside MLK hosted by the Woman’s Club and the League of Women Voters.
- Why are we under investigation by the Attorney General and what do we do about it?
- Should we have one school or multiple schools in our district?
- Can we guarantee all kids a seat at a local school?
First up, the Attorney General’s investigation of our district…
At the forum on Monday, the “Team up for all kids” trio said different versions of don’t worry about it, business as usual, nothing to see here, focus on the kids, this investigation is a distraction. I agree, being under investigation is a distraction, but we need to understand why we are in the spotlight in order to resolve any issues and avoid making things worse in the future. Here is my summary from the stage:
I believe that Willow Creek’s structure and funding patterns are at the core of the conversation. Willow Creek is an independent charter, meaning it has its own board and governance, that is clearly dependent on public funds, currently to the tune of $800k~$1m up from $425k in the 2014-15 school year.
Typically, independent charters maintain their independent governance because they operate independently of public funds above the agreed per student minimums (which for us are over $8,000 per student). Dependent charters, on the other hand, are dependent on public funds and as such are dependent on the public boards for governance. Willow Creek is now operating way outside the norm and it’s drawing attention that our district doesn’t want or need.
Next, single or multi-school options for the district…
Speaking of a half million dollars, that is what our district is deficit spending in our current structure and budget. That must be addressed. All three “Team up for all Kids” candidates gave similar answers of “don’t cut in the classroom” which makes everyone happy while also supporting a single school structure to save money without details of what that means.
But wait… that eliminates an entire school, namely Bayside MLK. Schools have classrooms, don’t they? And by eliminating Bayside MLK, are we drawing more negative attention to our district, further highlighting the difference in how our board treats each school?
Bonnie Hough, Ida Green, and I all support multi-school models in slightly different formats to ensure community inclusive practices and guarantee capacity for all students. Here is my response to the question of structure, breaking it down as a math problem of capacity, community, and $ustainability:
Why is capacity such a big deal? We are a small district, right? For now, yes, but we are in a baby boom of sorts. Young families are staying in our district and starting families more than they have in a generation. Mine is one of them.
Like many others, we stayed because of great Willow Creek stories promising a good public education. Now, Willow Creek’s candidates are proposing a single school solution, which I fundamentally disagree with. Why would I do that if Willow Creek is what made my family excited to stay here long term?
Last, but obviously not least, we should guarantee a local, public education for every kid.
Legally, charter schools can’t guarantee a seat to all the kids in their district. We absolutely must keep a traditional school open if we want to guarantee a local education for our kids. The challenge facing our district is to make both schools award winners like they were a decade ago (Bayside ‘07 & ‘08, WCA ‘06 & ‘11). Both schools need to get better, together, to serve all students.
My goal, similar to Bonnie and Ida, is to make sure all local options are great for our kids. The “Team up for all Kids” trio wants to eliminate one school, removing lots of seating capacity from our district, and removing any option. What happens if they are forced to use a lottery to place students? More families start to move away again, just like my neighbor. A comment that earned the only on-stage interruption of the evening (~30 second into the video above).
We have to continue this conversation as a district. Structure change is coming. Whether we choose a structure that truly supports all students or have that change decided for us by the county or courts is up to us. And it will be decided in this election.
I look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you at the upcoming forums in a few weeks.