The Politics of Fear

As I knock on doors and meet so many of Waterford’s amazing families and individuals, I sleep well at night knowing that, win or lose, running for the WGSD school board has been a rewarding experience.

During this campaign I have learned a lot about WGSD’s different neighborhoods and the people that reside in them. I’ve had rewarding conversations with community members from a variety of backgrounds. I’ve been awed and humbled as I listened to people share their stories of their service in World War II, several that had recently lost a spouse to cancer, and still others who are struggling to raise a child as a single parent.

Of course, there were those that opened the door to see a guy with a clipboard and then simply stated “Not Interested”. But the conversations have all been positive, even with those community members that ended up sharing that they simply could not support me.

But there was one conversation that really opened my eyes to the misinformation being shared by others. A father with two kids asked what was going on with common core. He said he had seen several pictures on Facebook of rallies in Waterford where community members were opposing common core. I assured him there had been no local rallies opposing common core and that the picture he saw was altered. I also explained that there is not a single sex ed standard in all of common core. After all, the common core standards only address two content areas, English and math.

I explained that during the two years I have been video recording every single school board meeting not once did a community member or current candidate for the school board ever raise a concern about common core during a meeting. He asked how that could be such a big issue for some of the candidates, and all I could do is shrug my shoulders.

That experience, combined with the negative, yet persuasive campaign flyers that were found hanging on most everyone’s mailbox today, made me decide that I should offer details about my past union involvement, signing the recall, and common core. My feeling is that as long as everyone has both sides of the story, I can live with the results of this election, win or lose.

1) Past Union Involvement

I was elected as the president of the Kenosha Education Association back in 2003. I was a single guy with no kids at the time and I truly felt involvement in my union was the best way for me to help improve education in Kenosha. At that time Kenosha had over 200 teacher vacancies and we were losing teachers weekly to Illinois where the pay was much higher. In that community back in 2003 a tax freeze just wasn’t going to be good for teachers or kids because it would have meant even more classrooms with long term subs that were not certified.

During that period in my life I did feel that improving the teaching profession and helping students were really one in the same. If money was what I was after, I would have been much better off renovating more investment properties instead of working 60-80 hours per week representing the education profession. By helping to improve an educator’s teaching environment I felt I was helping to improve a student’s learning environment. I ran unopposed in 2004 when I was elected for a second 1-year term. Two years is all that was allowed, and I was happy to let other well deserved educators take over that role.

Ironically, my union experience from over a decade ago is what makes me such a strong school board candidate today. It is what allowed me to discover the more than $50,000 wasted by the WGSD school board in 2013 when they chose a more expensive health plan for the district employees. It is still hard to believe that this very useful Act 10 tool, the ability of the employer to unilaterally choose the employee’s health plan, was tossed aside by our district administrator and school board in order to choose a more costly plan. So to answer the question in the flyer, yes, I am willing to use the tools of Act 10 to hold down costs. In fact I made that clear two years ago when I posted the original article on the wasting of $50,000.

My involvement in school budgets goes back over 20 years, when I was looked upon by my peers in Racine to explain what and why the school board was making certain decisions. That is actually how my union involvement started. Later, in Kenosha, I came to know the school budget as well, if not better, than the district’s business manager. On several occasions I found innovative ways for budget concerns to be resolved.

Let me share another local example that is in the present. As hard as it may be for some to admit, we now know that the WGSD community has lost out on millions of dollars in surplus state aid by not adopting a district wide 4K program in prior years. Instead our property tax dollars have funded 4K programs in neighboring districts. This is another example of how having the desire to be a good candidate is no replacement for real life experience with education, school finances, and state funding.

While I was not the one who made the original argument for 4K, I do take the credit for showing our current superintendent and school board how 4K saves us millions. My school budget and finance skills, honed over the past 20 years when trying to better my profession, are what makes me a strong candidate for the WGSD school board today.

I haven’t attended a union meeting in at least 5 years and I have not paid a single dollar in union dues since it became optional. Community members will have to decide for themselves if they want to elect someone with school finance and budgeting experience that rivals that of most district administrators, or self proclaimed conservatives who can do nothing but say they have the desire to keep taxes low.

2) Signing the Recall

Signing the recall was a decision I made for a variety of reasons. Some were personal and some were related to my profession as an educator. It was never an issue for a school board to decide. But the bottom line is the governor won and the recallers lost. That was three years ago and I am over it. I hope those that won are too.

Today there are no unions in our Waterford schools, and even if there were they have little to no bargaining rights. What we did see in Waterford Graded was an administration and school board that made so many poor decisions with their new found freedom that we lost over 30% of our best and brightest teachers to nearby school districts.

While the information shared above and below shows that many of our past and current candidates for school board have not been able to look past state and national politics, that certainly will not be the case with me. All actions and decisions that I would make as a school board member will be made only with the best interests of our local students, families and taxpayers in mind.

But cutting to the point, could Act 10 and its tax saving results really be the issue here? After all, I am the candidate that is promising to not vote to raise the school tax levy a single dollar in all three years. Even the three self proclaimed conservatives haven’t matched that. In fact, one of them claims doing so is “irresponsible”. I guess that would be my response too if I was claiming to be the “fiscal conservative”, but didn’t know the first thing about school district budgets and state funding. Again, desire alone is no match for experience and knowledge.

3) Common Core

First, there have been no local rallies about common core. The rally image above was altered (photo-shopped) from a news article about common core in another state. Again, nobody has ever aired concerns about the common core standards at a WGSD school board meeting, not even the three school board candidates that are now raving about its ill effects.

Second, there is no “pornography” or sex education written into the common core standards. The standards cover English and math, that is all. The candidate who has the “Pornography 101” picture posted on his campaign web page was asked by a community member to share a single common core standard that he disagreed with. Instead of doing that he deleted the entire conversation.

I am not sure if these self-described “conservative” candidates are having trouble finding them, but the common core standards aren’t top secret. You can view the English standards here and you can view the math standards here. I would really like someone to direct me to a standard they feel we should not adopt here in WGSD. Can anyone find something about sex education? And do the math standards really stop with Algebra 2? The answer to both of these questions is no.

Unfortunately, the politics of fear and the old saying “perception is reality” certainly apply here in Waterford Graded. For better or worse, the national, state and now local debate about the recently implemented common core standards has some community members concerned. Are these concerns based on fact or myth? Are the examples people post on the internet an example of common core or a simply a poorly worded question? Is common core the reason for the “new math” or has the new math already been around for 10 or 15 years?

Regardless of the answer to these questions, I have proposed a community forum to address these types of questions and concerns. In my approach to a community forum we would invite parents, community members, teachers, and students to bring their concerns to the school board and the superintendent at an open and public meeting. Everyone should also feel welcome to bring in examples of homework and teacher lessons that are causing them concern. They should also feel welcome to reference the actual standards (see above) that are causing them grief.

Again, I say this because so far I have not found a single common core standard referenced by anyone who has been raising a concern about the implementation of common core. Am I wrong to conclude that if someone has slated the removal of the common core standards as their primary campaign issue, then shouldn’t they at least reference one of the standards and explain why they feel it is bad for our kids?

Regardless, I think my approach to a public forum would be very informative for our community. As a community we alone know what is best for our students and only we should decide what they are taught. I also believe that if we hold a community forum in this manner a large percentage of us will all reach the same conclusion.

To read more about why common core is so confusing to many community members please read my article titled, “Number Sense is Common Sense“.

The Politics of Fear

My opponent’s flyer states, “We could have a 100% progressive school board, if we don’t get out the conservative vote”.  Wow, what exactly does that mean? Is a three year tax freeze promise, a common sense community forum to hash out common core, and an obvious guarantee to take the lowest cost health care plan really not conservative?

But then again, when I put myself in their shoes I start to see where they are coming from. After all, every candidate has to run on something. If I was a candidate that had never attended a single monthly school board meeting before filing election papers, and if I could not reference a single gripe about the common core standards (their primary campaign issue), and if my opponent had the knowledge and experience to promise a much more fiscally conservative approach to school taxes than I did, what would I do?

Personally, I just wouldn’t run for school board. But if someone in their shoes still felt it was their calling to run, if they were convinced that somebody had to stop the “progressives”, I guess that is exactly what they would run on. They would try to instill that fear in as many people as they could, even if they couldn’t articulate a single argument as to why that was in the community’s best interest.

Matt Kranich
March 2015


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