After 2½ years of being the editor of your favorite weekly newspaper, I’ve figured out that rule number one in this job should be: Expect the unexpected.
Of all the government bodies I cover in your favorite weekly newspaper, the Platteville School Board has been the least controversial. The school district gets the best scores of any school district west of Madison and south of La Crosse in the state school report cards and by other measures. Platteville has more nationally certified teachers than any other school district in this area. The walls around the Platteville High School cafeteria show off the highest level of student academic achievements. And you’ll notice the latest honor for a Platteville school on page 1 this week.
There was one school board race in 2012, and no races in 2013 and 2014; in fact, only a last-minute candidacy prevented the school board from having fewer candidates than available seats one year ago.
One year later, eight candidates are running for three seats. One of them is guaranteed to be elected, after board member Monie Konecny decided to retire from the board.
So what’s the difference between the winter of 2014 and the winter of 2015? (Other than about 40 degrees of average temperature, that is.)
One is the $15 million referendum for the $16.6 million building project April 7. It is interesting to note that, after the survey of school district residents indicated overwhelming opposition to closing one of the school district’s elementary schools, the proposed project takes a step in that direction by moving first grade from Neal Wilkins Early Learning Center to Westview Elementary School, even though, as reported last week, the school district plans on keeping Neal Wilkins open for at least 20 more years.
Another is the statements of two challengers that the school board needs more parents of current students than the current four. All but one of the five who don’t have children in the district have been on the board for many years, though, and people who don’t have kids in school are still paying for the schools through their property taxes, so they deserve representation too, and I’m sure the challengers would agree with that. As to whether board members who don’t have kids are out of touch with what’s going on in schools, that’s up to voters to evaluate.
The other issue seems peripherally tied to the issue that is not going away, the non-renewal of the contract of volleyball coach Yvette Updike, though the issue isn’t really about Updike. I wrote here before that a public attempt to get a coach fired undermines not only that coach, but other coaches and teachers. That issue seems to be at least a partial motivation for some of the candidates given that at least two have spouses who work for the school district.
The first speaker on the subject of Updike at the Jan. 12 School Board meeting tied together her nonrenewal and the referendum. Both are about confidence in what the School Board does. (The board, remember, never took a vote on Updike’s nonrenewal because it was an administrative decision.) The board rarely has non-unanimous votes, and seldom has been heard a discouraging word from the public at meetings, until the last couple of months.
Meanwhile, there will be a primary election for one of three Common Council seats for the second consecutive year. It seems strange that enough candidates file to run for at-large seats but, once again, not for one of the district seats. That doesn’t necessarily mean the city should change all council seats to at-large seats, but it might be worth considering.
The interesting dynamic this year is the candidacies of not just Darrel Browning, who ran one year ago because, as he said a year ago, “I honestly and truly do not like the way the city is being run, and do not feel that it’s fair and equal,” but former city employee Angie Donovan, as well as Plan Commission member Tom Nall. The sort-of-insider/outsider dynamic would seem to be operating again as it did one year ago, and again city residents get a referendum vote on city operations by their council votes Feb. 17 and April 7.
The most interesting future issue the next alderman gets to decide is the next city manager. The relationship between the council and the city manager seems not entirely optimally functional. It would be too easy to blame that on outgoing City Manager Larry Bierke, because since the city started employing city managers, Bierke has actually had one of the longer tenures as city manager. Whether you agree that some of the council has been micromanaging city operations, as Bierke suggested, probably depends on how you feel the city is being run generally, and how issues you’re concerned about turned out.
Stay tuned, and stay observant.