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What we can learn from this many school board primary candidates

By Ben Rodgers

I can’t ever recall seeing this many names on the ballot for a school board primary election.

In West De Pere, three people are running for one open seat; across the Fox River, two incumbents face three challengers; and the scenario is the same in Howard-Suamico.

I figured I’ve probably covered more than 200 school board meetings since I started as a reporter, and I’ve gleaned a few things in that time.

The first is being on a school board is not an easy job. It’s difficult and time-consuming.

School board members listen to parents and staff, have a deep knowledge of school finance and the state funding formula, and work with administration to implement changes that educate the people who will be running things in a few short years.

In the decade since I started, education looks vastly different now.

Smartboards are commonplace, individualized learning plans are rampant, teachers are stretched thinner than ever before, and student-athletes train and play in some breathtaking facilities.

That’s not to mention changes in the educational hiring landscape, the demand for teachers, curriculum changes and a plethora of other topics.

So why do we have 13 people running for five seats in three districts around Greater Green Bay for a job the average person would call mildly interesting?

The main answer, I feel, is self-explanatory, if you have looked at a newspaper or TV screen in the past 10 months.

However, I’m desperately hoping COVID-19 isn’t the only reason so many people have thrown their hats in the ring.

Prior to COVID-19, the most contentious education reporting I ever did was teacher contract negotiations when I worked out of state.

The second was probably every referendum I’ve covered in numerous districts in Wisconsin.

Pre-COVID, almost always, I was the only non-district employee in attendance (this still holds true for our reporters at nearly every government meeting).

This year, in the thick of COVID, I covered an online meeting with more than 900 attendees.

Nowhere near 900 ever turned out to learn about teacher salaries and hirings, or keeping buildings from becoming grossly outdated.

I can certainly tell you 900 never attended to learn about the impact on their tax bills, but they still love to complain when they don’t understand it.

The priorities of the public have shifted to short-term wants instead of long-term needs, at least that’s what the number of people in this candidate pool at this particular time signifies to me.

I implore you to think long-term about the decision you make at the polls this primary cycle.

The Press Times is again doing candidate Q&As to help you better understand who is running and why.

From these responses, I know for a fact there are extremely qualified people, who have sat on boards for many years quietly doing the thankless work, now being challenged.

I also know some of those challengers are equally qualified, and care about more than opening schools. However, I can’t say that for all of them.

At some point, this virus will be behind us.

School board meetings will most likely return to rooms filled with district employees concerned about a multitude of little things related to long-term success, and myself in the corner feverishly taking notes.

Make a smart choice about who you want sitting in there with me, because a lot more than in-person instruction is at stake.

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