Beloit Education Association Sounds Off

[WARNING: Local politics. If you’re not in Beloit, WI, you might as well skip this. But if you are, make sure to read it instead.]

Tonight, I open our local free paper, the Stateline News, and find a full page ad the Beloit Education Association took out to print a report card on our current school board. It’s less of an advertisement and more of an indictment of two of our current school board members: Pam Charles and Shannon Scharmer.

A few things struck me as I read this.

First, I’ve been hearing lots of rumors about improprieties on the current board, and the ad covers these pretty well and with some measure of authority. Those rumors are a major reason I considered running for the board myself this year. Although I decided I couldn’t in good conscience make that kind of commitment at the moment, it’s also the reason I did choose to help out with the campaigns for two candidates I believe in: Amy Oselio and Missy Henderson.

Second, I’m grateful that someone finally decided to investigate the rumors and bring them into the light. It needed to be large group with some cash to hire a lawyer in case of the potential libel suits such accusatory language can expect to incite. The BEA fits that bill and has a strong enough interest in the makeup of the school board to dig deep.   

Third, I’m saddened that our local paper, the Beloit Daily News, didn’t step up to handle this investigation itself. I’ve always treasured the idea of an unbiased fourth estate that can dig into these sorts of matters for the betterment of the community, but if there’s such a watchdog here in town, he slept right through this one. I spend most of my time in my own world, and I’d heard these rumors. The BDN had to have heard of them too, and yet I saw no mention of this in its pages.

I expect that may change soon, but would it have without the prodding of the BEA?

The one point I didn’t like about the BEA ad was the cheap shot they took at the nascent Gifted and Talented program we have here in Beloit. We have a real problem in this city with the wealthier people taking their kids out of our public schools and placing them in private schools or in neighboring public schools. One big reason for this is that these parents don’t see many if any services being offered to kids with the potential to excel. In my neighborhood, we’re in the stark minority here in keeping our kids in the Beloit public school.

This creates a huge problem because the funding our schools receive from the state is based upon the number of students we have. When we lose a student, we lose about $10,000 a year. If we kept a good chunk of our departing students here in town, we’d have more than enough money to fund the Gifted and Talented program.

The worst part is those kids who leave are the ones who would be best able to up our average test scores, a metric our teachers and administrators worry about a lot. If we kept them around, we’d not only have more cash, we’d have more successful schools. Instead, we find ourselves in a death spiral. The Gifted and Talented program represents one easy way to reverse that doomed direction, but the school administrators never seemed to get behind it.

The ad claims that we’re spending half a million dollars on 33 kids, and this is disingenuous. That much may have been budgeted, but I’d be surprised to see if that much has really been spent. My son Marty is one of those 33 kids who’ve been identified, so I’ve seen the developing program from the inside. I could go into excruciating detail about the problems the program has, but it just started up in the fall, so I’m willing to cut it some slack while it ramps up—if the board doesn’t strangle it in its crib.

Seriously, though, to claim that we’ve only been able to pick out 33 gifted kids from the over 7,000 we serve in our district is insulting. That’s less than one half of one percent. The other 99.5+% are apparently either average or below that. It’s the polar opposite of Lake Wobegon.

It means one of three things:

1) We have very stupid children in Beloit.

2) We have very stupid people administering our Gifted and Talented program.

3) We have very stupid people making this claim.

Actually, I’d be generous enough to say it could be some combination of both 2 and 3. I’ve been involved in the schools here for the past five years, and I can emphatically say that the answer is not #1. I don’t know exactly where our student population ranks nationally as a crew, but there’s no way that our kids are that dumb. We haven’t driven off all the gifted and talented kids—not yet.

It could be that the people involved in bringing us this ridiculous statistic—either by causing it or reporting it—are deceitful or even malicious rather than stupid. I generally respect Hanlon’s razor in such cases, but I’m prepared to back Vice-President Biden’s feelings when it comes to budgets: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

That aside, allow me to be emphatic in my endorsement of Amy Oselio and Missy Henderson. I’ve known both women for years—Missy used to trade babysitting with my mother when I was still in diapers—and they’re both excellent candidates with the best interests of our students at the top of our respective agendas.

Best of all, they’re both level-headed, smart, and ethical. They know the system inside and out. They ask the right questions. They explore excellent answers. Please vote for them both this Tuesday, April 7.

We get to cast three votes for school board this time around. Two should go to Amy and Missy.

As for the third, well, my mother tried to teach me to not rip people in public, and while I don’t always live up to her expectations, I do at least try. All I can say is that—according to the BEA’s ad —you could do a lot worse than using your third vote for either Tia Johnson or Jessica Everson. A lot worse.