The race for a seat on the liberal-dominated Madison School Board got a little more competitive Friday when an outspoken conservative blogger and former member of the Tommy Thompson administration declared his candidacy.
David Blaska, also a former Dane County Board member, said he was driven to run for Seat 3 by what he described as the poor way the board has handled student behavior and school safety.
“It starts with safety and discipline,” said Blaska, who on his blog has been sharply critical of the district’s deliberations over whether to continue stationing Madison police officers in the high schools.
Despite raucous protests by the activist group Freedom Inc., a committee of the board recommended on Sept. 26 that the police officers, called educational resource officers, or EROs, remain in the schools. Protests against EROs by the same group shut down a School Board meeting on Oct. 29 to approve the budget. It was approved two days later in a special meeting.
Blaska also criticized the district’s Behavior Education Plan as “too bureaucratic” and the “product of too many administrators and too many meetings.” The plan — which was rolled out in 2014 and runs to 77 pages for elementary schools and 82 pages for middle and high schools — is largely an attempt to move away from “zero tolerance” policies and reduce the disproportionately high number of students of color who are expelled or suspended. It is undergoing revisions this year.
He said he would try to get the BEP down to about eight pages while giving teachers and administrators more discretion over how they handle student behavior in their schools.
Incumbent Dean Loumos, who chaired the ERO committee, said he was “not at all” vulnerable to criticism about the way he has handled security issues.
Being on the School Board is “a lot of work” that requires knowledge of child development, trauma and poverty, and more than just a “desire to help kids or an attitude.”
He pointed to his 10 years of experience as a teacher and 25 years working to find housing for homeless and mentally ill people. Loumos retired this year as executive director of Madison nonprofit Housing Initiatives.
Also in the race is Cris Carusi, who works in communications for the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.
While she said she didn’t want schools “that feel like prisons ... I do believe that for the short term, (EROs) should remain.”
She also said she believed in “the theory and intent behind the BEP” but thinks the district could do more to implement it, such as with more training for teachers and training in restorative justice practices.
Loumos called Carusi a “strong advocate for schools” and “a good person.” As for Blaska, “I get my news from better sources than blogs,” he said.
He and Carusi said they welcomed competition in the race.
Blaska said that since announcing his intention to run Thursday, he’s been “inundated” with calls from supporters.
“I thought long and hard about this. It’s going to be a minefield out there,” he said, but declined to elaborate.
Madison School Board elections are unlike all or most other school board elections in the state in that candidates must opt to run for one of seven citywide seats. As a result, if there is no competition for a seat or if the vote totals for that seat are especially low, a candidate for that seat can still be elected to the School Board over candidates for other seats who get more votes.
As of Friday, Loumos, Carusi and Blaska had filed declarations of candidacy for Seat 3. One person has filed to run for each of two other seats — Seat 4, currently held by James Howard, and Seat 5, currently held by TJ Mertz — that will be on the ballot April 2. They are Ali Muldrow and Ananda Mirilli, respectively.