Four years ago the Milwaukee School Board was made up of six white males, only one woman, and no Latinos. In fact, the board was less diverse than it was two years before that when the board had five white males, two women, and one Latina.
Today the school board looks a lot closer to the makeup of the district’s student population. Only two white males are left on the board. (I’m one of them.) Four members are now women. Four are black. Through redistricting, the board created a predominantly Latino district, and we once again have a Latina board member.
Other than race and gender, there are other interesting demographic elements to this board.
All nine members of the board are college graduates; three have a Ph.D. in education. Two members taught in Milwaukee Public Schools. (I’m one of the former MPS teachers.)
However, only one board member has children in MPS. But the public just elected two women under the age of 35. (I’m not bold enough to ask them what their family plans are.) My granddaughter will be starting in MPS next year. And I, along with several other board members, had our own children graduate from MPS.
Clear differences exist between the makeup of elected and appointed school boards around the country, and the MPS board reflects those differences.
When mayors or governors appoint school boards, their boards tend to be filled with lawyers and business leaders. MPS does not have a single lawyer on its elected board. Is this a deficit? (Insert your favorite lawyer joke here.)
Director Jeff Spence works for Milwaukee’s sewage commission, but that is as close as we get to anyone coming from private industry. (You may insert lots of jokes about human waste at this point.)
Do these demographics have any impact on how a school board functions?
Recently American Quality Schools came before a Milwaukee Common Council committee asking for a one-year extension before beginning a school charter they had been awarded by the city. The aldermen mostly had questions about AQS finances; virtually no questions were about the school’s educational plans. When AQS came before the Milwaukee School Board, all the questions were about education.
One could argue that having a few captains of industry on the Milwaukee School Board might result in the school system being more sensitive to the employment needs in this community. Clearly that was one of the main arguments when the state made changes to the makeup of the board at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
But if the argument is that we need more business experience on school boards, why can’t the business community make those same arguments through our election process? Why do business leaders feel that the only why they can have a say on school boards is to have the state legislature abandon the election process and go to appointed boards? The real problem here may be the low regard much of the public holds of business leaders in many communities. Business folk – work on your public image.
Now a new school board has taken its seats at the table. But most of the membership is from the previous board with just a couple of new members. Let’s see if the new board can continue to move this school district forward.