Saturday, September 13, 2008

State School Board District 8 didn't get vetted by the biased committee and Trent Kaufman is an interesting study

The first purpose of this post is to clarify a blank spot in my understanding. I hadn't realized until a few days ago that there was a State School Board race with only two candidates to begin with. Trent Kaufman is challenging incumbent Janet Cannon in State Senate District 8.

No other candidates filed in District 8, so Cannon and Kaufman totally avoided the whole process of the biased nominating committee and the governor narrowing the field down to three and then to two. Outside of some legislative insiders, most feel it's a horrible process, and it was particularly partisan this year with "business interests" voting as a bloc (I use the quotes because business owners are not a monolithic group with similar views in my experience. These business rep's appointed by the governor are from influential circles with narrow views.), and with the governor, eliminating three incumbents without allowing the public to decide on their job performance. (I don't even like Colbert's positions, but he should get a chance to stand for re-election.) Sara Brate at the Accountability Blog compiled the committee votes in a Google doc.

I wrote a little about the process, but mostly just linked to excellent posts by Sara. (From the link--Did you know that in 2006 two State School Board candidates received over $30,000 dollars each from Parents for Choice in Education? One of them won their election and one didn’t.)

This has colored the thinking of those public education advocates paying attention, but with the lack of attending controversy, District 8 still managed to slide under the radar, at least for me. The race had gotten the least publicity of all the districts until the Tribune article last week showed that Kaufman had raised a surprisingly high amount of money ($7,939 to Cannon’s $0), much of it from out-of-state donors. This fact immediately triggers alarm bells for those who remember PCE’s attempt to stack the school board in 2006, and perhaps some faulty assumptions as well. I know I immediately assumed Kaufman was one of those candidates vetted through the biased committee when I read he was facing an incumbent. It took me a minute to go look up the race on the state election site when I couldn't find District 8 on the voting spreadsheet above. I bet others connected those dots erroneously too because we've been so concerned about the process. I'm posting this to clarify there is a race that didn't get filtered through the committee, and that Trent Kaufman actually has public school credentials, while having no real history on charter schools. I do not mean this to “vet” him fully…I still have unanswered questions about his positions, especially on vouchers, and am still taking his explanation of the money he raised with a grain of salt.

This stems from the summary I posted of the new legislative-leadership-hosted Red Meat Radio show's first broadcast the other day (Exciting Episode #2 is this morning! I really don't care about the Palin debate, but I'll have to tune in second hour to hear Senator Stephenson's take on merit pay and those "callous" teachers.) , including a segment where Kaufman explained why he thought the Tribune was trying to unfairly label him as a voucher supporter.

Mr. Kaufman emailed to thank me for writing about the show and explain more of what he said because I had tuned in part way through his interview. He feels Paul Rolly was falsely labeling him as part of the "charter school movement" because of an anonymous tip when the opposite is true from his record, and that Lisa Schenker also had him pegged unfairly. Here is what he wrote:
In April Paul Rolly, Tribune columnist emailed me and asked if I was a member of the Charter School movement. I said I didn't know what he was talking about and where he got his information. He said he couldn't reveal his sources but he was grateful I set the record straight. I poured over everything on the internet about me to try to understand where he would have gotten this from. I'm not part of the Utah education establishment, having worked in education in CA and MA, but not yet Utah, so I can't imagine who in Utah would have come up with the idea that I somehow was part of the charter school movement (whatever that means). On my resume it shows that I presented at the CA Charter School Association Conference about some tools created in public schools that might be relevant to charter schools too. I can only assume that that's where he got his angle.

He then wrote a story about how there was a pro charter, pro voucher candidate as well as a pro union candidate running in every race and simply glossed over my district instead of pointing out that there are two pro public school candidates in District 8. This is when I realized it would be hard for me to prove my loyalty to public schools in this campaign, since Janet has proven to support public schools too. In other words, Rolly wanted it to be partisan even though it isn't a partisan election. I think we need to ratchet up the expectations within public schools in Utah (coming from MA, I have seen a real difference). That's my big "reform" message.

Lisa's first question for me on the phone was: "I heard you are involved in charter schools…" As you can imagine, I sighed and then explained who I am.

I'm actually glad to read that you are curious about my donations too. I thought Lisa was trying to make something out of nothing. So to hear you are curious means perhaps others are too. Several school board members have raised more than me in previous years, I guess others will simply raise money later in the campaign.

My real issue with Rolly and Schenker's questions is that I really don't like partisan politics entering the school boards in any form. I think the polarization that occurs is plain bad for kids. And it felt like the media was trying to create partisan divide where there wasn't any.

I liked that Mr. Kaufman explained his position clearly and was not defensive. I don't have first-hand experience with schools back East, but have heard similar comments about the higher school standards (especially in Virginia) from many friends and acquaintances--raising our standards seems a worthy goal. I'm glad that he understood my suspicions about his out-of-state donations and would like to learn more about his statement that previous school board candidates have raised even more money than him. Is he referring only to the two PCE candidates who received $30,000 in out-of-state pro-voucher money in 2006, or were there others? If he's got thousands more than his fellow candidates now, how much more will he have by November? I honestly wonder if any other school board candidates will raise $8000. What big donors are interested besides PCE?

I also 124% agree with his dislike of partisan politics in school boards. For the record, Senator Stephenson, the host of last Saturday’s show who interviewed Kaufman, co-sponsored and voted for Senator Bramble's bill (SB 194) in 2007 that would have made state school board races explicitly partisan. It passed the Senate before dying in the House.

From Kaufman’s explanation and then looking at his website and biography, I also thought that maybe he was characterized unfairly...until I went back and read Rolly’s article. I don’t think Rolly does much more fair than that, in terms of his comments about Kaufman. Yes, it is possible to make assumptions about Kaufman, but I think the column makes things more clear, not less. (In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t retain the information after reading the article months ago.) Rolly clearly treats Kaufman differently than the other candidates he reported on, stating “the committee won’t have influence” and that he was a high school principal, while calling the others “the most fervent charter-school advocates and pro-voucher devotees.” I explained in my last post that I think Kaufman over-reacted to the Schenker article as well.

So…I like many of Kaufman’s positions (on class size [in the Opinions section] and merit pay)...and I’m suspicious of his funding, some of his supporters (Senator Stephenson, Jeff Hartley—former XO of the Utah GOP…as well as some non-fawning, quality endorsements from Patty Sandstrom and Gardner Brown), and think he’s making a mountain out of a molehill with his complaints about the media. There’s not a lot of information about Janet Cannon out there, no website that I could find, but here’s a small bio and an article about an award she received in 2006 for her service on the State School Board. It seems at first glance that district 8 has two good candidates to choose from. Keep researching and choose carefully.

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