Madison voters picked business and board experience for School Board instead of two political newcomers with experience more representative of the district's growing minority population.
Two-term incumbent Arlene Silveira soundly defeated Nichelle Nichols, vice president for education and learning for the Urban League of Greater Madison. And former Commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke won by a significant margin over firefighter Michael Flores.
Silveira, who received numerous endorsements and was viewed as a strong incumbent, had a significant fundraising advantage over Nichols, who emphasized her experience working with Schools of Hope and other education programs, and raising four children who have attended Madison schools.
Burke, who was well-known for her work with the Boys & Girls Club and in state government, self-financed her campaign and was on pace to outspend Flores by a wide margin. Flores emphasized his experience as a minority parent who graduated from Madison schools.
The election was the first to feature multiple contested School Board seats since 2007. There were several hot-button issues, including how to raise the achievement levels of low-income and minority students, the pending rewrite of employee work rules, and, emerging in the last week, the decision by superintendent Dan Nerad to leave his position by June 2013.
"I believe the voters indicated we are at a critical juncture and experience really is important," Burke said.
Silveira agreed, saying she's ready to tackle issues such as another difficult budget, finalizing the achievement gap plan, creating an employee handbook and searching for a new superintendent.
"(Voters) recognize we have some complex issues ahead of us," Silveira said.
Nichols and Flores said they would consider running for the board in the future. Three seats, held by Maya Cole, James Howard and Beth Moss, are up next year.
The campaign followed an emotional School Board vote opposing the opening of Madison Preparatory Academy, a charter school geared toward low-income, minority students. Nichols and Burke supported the school and Silveira and Flores, both of whom received the teachers union endorsement, opposed it.
Kaleem Caire, Urban League of Greater Madison president, said the results reflected Silveira's strong name recognition after six years on the board and the strong support of MTI, which spent several thousand dollars to bolster Flores' campaign.
MTI executive director John Matthews said though MTI didn't endorse Burke, he believes she would be a credible School Board member. He had criticized her wealth and background during the campaign.
"She's 180 degrees from Flores from where she grew up and what she has, but I think she has good intentions," he said.