Routine functions of the Madison School Board are not likely to change much with member Mary Burke’s defeat Tuesday in her challenge to Gov. Scott Walker, her colleagues say.
“We will probably hunker down over next couple years in terms of educational initiatives the legislature decides to put us through,” School Board member Ed Hughes said Wednesday. “Time will tell.”
It didn’t take much time at all.
Republican legislative leaders, who boosted their majorities in the Assembly and Senate Tuesday — outlined their vision for the next session Wednesday. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters he wants to start with a school accountability bill.
A sweeping school accountability bill that included sanctions for nonperforming schools failed to win enough Republican support last session to pass.
The bill was criticized by Democrats who said the state should not only sanction, but assist struggling schools.
“We get to keep a good school board member while losing a probably even better governor,” Madison School Board member Dean Loumos said of Burke’s defeat.
It’s just not Madison that is losing out, Loumos said.
“Her positions on education, funding and how to work with staff would have benefited the entire state. She is the one who understands that an economic development plan starts with a well-funded public education system and affordable higher education," he said. "An educated and skilled populace is the true economic generator.”
Walker, in contrast, has expanded a voucher program that — instead of offering a choice for families dissatisfied with public schools — is being used mostly by students already in private programs, Loumos said.
“It’s gutting public education," he said.
Hughes and Loumos said that school board functions had not been hampered by the somewhat unlikely circumstance of a fellow member running for statewide public office in a hotly contested election.
There were some mildly annoying circumstances like a political operative trying to film an executive session of the school board through the window of a closed door and the nearly constant taping of Burke at public school board meetings, they said.
For someone with political ambitions, Burke is surprisingly quiet during school board sessions. Some observers wondered if her lone-wolf, closely watched votes just weeks before the election against a 4.2 percent property tax hike, but in favor of a 1 percent teacher salary increase were politically motivated.
Both Hughes and Loumos said her votes were in keeping with the fiscal conservatism she had expressed in the past.
“She doesn’t talk a lot,” Loumos mused. “Maybe she was conscious of how the statements she made could be cut and pasted and used” by her opponent.
“When she talks, it’s mostly about the budget and she’s really on top of it,” he said. “I thought she would vote like did a year ago” when she also cast the sole vote against the school district property tax hike.
Hughes declined to judge Burke’s motivation on the budget votes.
“The argument could be made that you support a modest increase in salaries while thinking the overall increase was greater than maybe it should be,” he said. Hughes called labeling her vote as political “a little glib.”
“I will say I am grateful to Mary for being willing to undertake what she did and subject herself to what she did to make a better Wisconsin,” Hughes said.
He was referring to such things as the unflattering reports about behind-the-scenes assessments of Burke’s abilities by people who knew her work when she was Commerce Secretary for Gov. Jim Doyle and an executive at Trek Bicycle, the family business.
“I don’t think that’s the kind of scrutiny that anyone would want to go through,” Hughes said.
And it affects the caliber of people willing to run for office, he said.