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Former Madison School Board member Ed Hughes is pictured at a board meeting at the Doyle building on Feb. 29, 2016.

Former Madison School Board member Ed Hughes said Tuesday that he plans to apply to fill the vacant seat on the Madison School Board.

Hughes, a retired lawyer, was first elected to the School Board in 2008 and served for nearly a decade. He ended his re-election bid for a fourth term in 2017 due to his wife’s battle with cancer.

School Board member Mary Burke resigned from her seat on Friday.

“I watched the board meeting last night and it seemed like I had qualifications that could be useful to the board,” Hughes said in an interview. “I am at a point where I would like to get involved in the community and this would be a good opportunity for me to do that if that’s what the board would want.”

Hughes was instrumental in helping the board get referenda passed in 2014 and 2016. He also was on the board during the hiring of Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. The board will spend the next year searching for a new superintendent as well working to get a facilities referendum on the November 2020 ballot. 

Board member Kate Toews said during a meeting Monday that she hoped to have a board member who had experience in either hiring superintendents or working on referenda, though she did not specifically name or endorse anyone. 

Three of the board’s six members were elected in April, and three others are still in their first term on the board. Hughes said that since the appointment would only be for nine months unless the appointee decided to run in the April 2020 election, “it seems to suggest that someone with experience might be helpful.”

The board plans to fill the vacant seat on July 22. 

Several former School Board candidates have mulled applying for the position. Applications submitted to the board will be released publicly on July 19 before the board plans to discuss the applications and make its decision. 

Kaleem Caire, the founder and CEO of the independent charter school One City Schools, lost a close race for Seat 3 against Cris Carusi in April. 

Caire told the Cap Times on Tuesday that he was still weighing whether to apply to the vacant Seat 2, and had talked to a board member about the possibility of applying. 

“I’m still weighing my options,” Caire said, noting that there are several projects related to One City that have been the focus of most of his time since the April election.

Caire also ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board in 1998. Caire, a former CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, has called for a focus on early childhood education.

David Blaska, who lost to Ali Muldrow in the April election for Seat 4, said he plans to apply for the position. Blaska, a former Dane County board member and a conservative blogger, would be a long shot to be appointed by the heavily liberal School Board. 

“Wouldn’t it be great to have some real diversity on the School Board?” Blaska said in an email. 

Former board member TJ Mertz, who lost his re-election bid in April to current Seat 5-holder Ananda Mirilli, said he was not interested in applying at this time. 

Former board member Anna Moffit, who lost her re-election bid in 2018 to current School Board President Gloria Reyes, said she was not planning to apply. 

Moffit recently was named the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Dane County. 

Some observers said the unique vacancy is a chance for a newcomer to serve.

“I would really love to see another black mother on the School Board,” said Sabrina Madison, the founder of the Progress Center for Black Women. “Especially a mom who has been advocating for her kid recently around some of these issues around race and equity.”

Though Madison said she hasn’t had any conversations with people who have said they’ll apply, she has been strategically and privately reaching out to parents of students in MMSD to encourage them to consider it. 

Whoever is appointed by the board would serve until an election is held in April 2020 to select someone to finish the last year of Burke’s term, which ends in April 2021. 

Hughes told the Cap Times that he does not know if he would run in the April 2020 election if he were to be appointed by the board later this month. 

“If I were selected I would give it some thought at some point, but that would all be speculation right now,” Hughes said. 

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The time commitment of being a board member, as well as concerns about having one’s whole life put into the public spotlight, were things Madison said were concerns several parents talked to her about when thinking about applying. 

“Not that anyone has anything embarrassing, but for example, there’s one woman who had a previous eviction in her history,” Madison said. “So she was concerned that someone might bring up her past and try to make it a point and drag her through the mud and say she doesn’t qualify because she has an eviction in her past.”

Mirilli also said she’s been encouraging everyone who’s reached out to her to apply, saying that the unique vacancy is an opportunity to have someone who might not have the social or financial capital to pursue a campaign.  

“It's an opportunity for young people. It’s an opportunity for mature individuals and advocates that have worked a lot in education but don’t necessarily have the appeal in terms of the political campaigning or raising funds part of it,” Mirilli said. “It brings an opportunity for a much more diverse pool of folks and I think that’s exciting.”

Mirilli said she doesn’t plan to endorse any particular applicant before the vote on the 22nd, but said she’s hopeful a large pool of candidates apply, especially those who might not have a lot of name recognition. 

“I’m really curious to see the pool (of applicants),” Mirilli said. “What we were coming to understand last night was that if we start saying we want someone with x, y or z experience, only those people will apply versus saying we want someone that will complement us as we are still learning, given half the board is new.”

The quick timeline the board has to appoint a new member by July 22 also could impact who ends up applying, Madison said. 

“I just feel like not enough people know about (the vacancy and how to apply) unless you’re someone who picks up the local newspaper or follows the local news sites,” Madison said. “But if you’re a single mom, you’re working full time and you’re running after your kids, you might not be tuned into this or might not have gotten the information in time.”

Reyes, who proposed the timeline at a meeting Monday night, explained a desire to fill the vacancy as soon as possible because of decisions regarding the hiring of a search firm to find a permanent superintendent and preparing for a possible facilities referendum.

The last time the board had to fill a vacancy was in 1996 when Nancy Mistele resigned from the board after moving out of the school district.  

Anyone 18 years or older who resides in the MMSD attendance area can apply to be considered by submitting a letter of interest to the district. The letter should detail what qualities the candidate can bring to the School Board, a statement on three issues the district faces and how the prospective board member would address them. The letter should be no more than about 700 words, according to board policy. 

Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.