New Orleans’ Near-Zero-Bluster School Board Race

And why it’s Relevant to Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s History of Ugly School Board Elections

Are you headed out tonight to what might be the last, and most comprehensive, Minneapolis School Board candidate forum? You should be. It’s being hosted by Animate the Race and sponsored by a host of local organizations including the Children’s Theatre, where the event will be held.

This is important for any number of reasons, not least that those elected next week in this most down-ticket of races will join the board at a pivotal moment. Beyond that, though, there’s the matter of democracy. The DFL chose its four endorsees last spring at an unbelievably ugly citywide endorsing convention in which a small number of people chose a slate–a mechanism that has historically mostly resulted in the anointing of board candidates acceptable to the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

This isn’t unique to Minneapolis, or to Minnesota. With what’s often a single-digit turnout, school board races are notoriously easy for special interests to dominate. You might think that’s okay if it’s your interest that’s ascendant in any given election cycle, but it’s not a truly healthy way to approach governance.

In service to this assertion, I offer you a story of mine that went live today, in which the politics of two school board races–the board that soon will oversee New Orleans’ schools and its more conventional next-door neighbor–provide an illustrative contrast.

This is the tale of two school districts: New Orleans, the most intently watched, politically charged experiment in modern education reform, and Jefferson Parish, the suburban bookend to New Orleans’s mossy, Creole charms.

In one, bold and effective reforms that enabled the district to change the way it staffed schools provoked a backlash — $650,000 in spending by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to elect a pro-union school board.

In the other, bold and effective reforms that enabled schools to change the way they staff themselves and structure their days have sparked the quiet, all-but-decided election of a board that — at least, in principle — favors continued change.

Paradoxically, the hard-fought, big-money contest was Jefferson Parish’s 2014 school board election. And national ramifications notwithstanding, this month’s Orleans Parish School Board election is the sleeper.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

More Comments