It is Election Day and, to be honest, I have no idea who is going to get elected to the school board. I think challenger Bob Poppenga has run a very strong race, but both Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes are incumbents, and strong ones at that.
I also believe that Measure H is going to win easily. In my years of covering local politics, there was only one parcel tax that came close to defeat, and that was Measure A in 2011 – which barely exceeded the two-thirds margin. That campaign was riddled with some controversies – mostly by the school board and district – and even then the opposition couldn’t get one-third of the voters to support a no position.
This time around, there has been little in the way of controversy. The usual suspects, like Jose Granda, attempted to make an issue out of the increase (slightly) in the baseline costs and then attempted to double-down by adding up the eight-year costs (subtly noting that the term of this is eight years rather than four years).
I don’t see the argument getting a lot of traction and it’s kind of a bad argument anyway, because people pay their taxes by the year, not in a lump sum. It would be interesting to see what would happen if there were ever a sophisticated campaign run against a parcel tax – but the fact that there is not is probably telling about where the communities lies.
Given the relative ease of this campaign, I have to again question whether the board was too risk-averse in not pushing the envelope on the parcel tax. Alan Fernandes had pushed for $960 rather than $620. Susan Lovenburg would have at least gone for $750. But the board majority was fearful of pushing the number too high.
There were a lot of reasons given for this. Some had to do with the overall number being a combination of all parcel taxes. Some had to do with the impact of the costs on the modest income residents. We noted at the time that, in 2012, the voters had been willing to go up to $750 or so, should the tax measure at the state level not pass.
The polls clearly showed that going above $620 would be a lift, but I always believed it was possible, with a strong and concerted campaign to bridge the gap – certainly at $750 and probably higher.
But I was told by an experienced observer that there was a weariness in the voters – something that did not show up in district polling and something that has not shown up, at least publicly, in the election. If it is there, it lies below the surface and is not emerging in letters or comment. Is that possible? Sure. But I think unlikely.
The bottom line is that we need more money, this district is good but not great, and we should be more ambitious. As I said in the summer, we have rested on our laurels for too long. I fear the district was too risk-adverse to take advantage of the moment.
What I find interesting is that, when I first started doing this, I was on the outside looking in, having only become a parent in 2009 and only having experience with the school district starting in late 2010.
My experience has been mostly positive. The district has done right by our 13-year-old nephew who came to live with us in late 2010. My daughter, now at 1st grade at Montgomery, is excelling in the dual-immersion program.
That said, I worry about Montgomery and its ability to educate the high number of English learners and Title One students. I worry about the inability of the district to close the achievement gap, although I’m pleased with the renewed emphasis on it.
I see a district that does a lot of things well, but, at the same time, has handled a number of situations poorly. The handling of the AIM issue, I am disappointed in. I don’t come into this as necessarily a supporter of AIM or a parent of AIM children. People have often asked me why I appear to support the AIM program – the reality is that I support proper process and fair access, for children of color and low income kids, to all programs.
One of the reasons I opposed the AIM changes other than on private testing was that I was concerned that shrinking the AIM program would reduce the opportunity of kids of color to access that program and, with regard to blacks and Hispanics, my worst fears were realized.
I also think the changes were rushed in. The issue involving the three strands was poorly handled. The parents were told there would be three strands, they were given options, and then the district, instead of fulfilling their promise, decided it was better to reduce the number of strands to two.
In my view, that was not the proper way to handle it. Madhavi Sunder and Alan Fernandes proposed a way forward, but the hardcore block of board members who have driven the changes to the AIM program would not compromise.
Similarly, the district had a screw up in how the AIM testing was administered. The district could have taken any number of steps to rectify it, but instead chose the most impactful way for the students – a three-hour test. That’s just not an example of a well-run district.
In the end, there are a lot of great things about this district. As I have stated many times, my nephew has a chance at a normal life that he likely wouldn’t have had anywhere else. But that is no reason to gloss over other challenges.
I don’t believe we can fix these problems by cutting funding – in fact, I think that would make things worse. While there seems to be strong support for the parcel tax, the frustration that many feel is real and is not far below the surface.
Hopefully, with eight years of parcel tax locked into place, the district will have the comfort level to be introspective and attack these problems more aggressively. Stay tuned.
—David M. Greenwald reporting