Two weeks ago I posted about the emergence of a slate of three candidates among the seven vying for the three open seats in the upcoming Grosse Pointe Public Schools Board of Education election.
The partnership of Margaret Weertz, Jake Howlett, and Brian Summerfield was further cemented this week when each announced they had been endorsed by the Grosse Pointe Education Association (GPEA), which is the local teachers union.
In the past when the GPEA has endorsed candidates, they have shared a questionnaire or some other rationale for their decision. Without that or really any other substantial announcement for the affiliation of this slate, we remain left wondering why.
This void has created more space for the silliest of public bickering between both sides of the non-party aisles on the school board as the unofficial spokespeople for each argued via the media about the presence or lack of “divisiveness” on the board.
That is an article for another day, but for now the issue facing the electorate remains the same: On what basis will we ever know why these three chose one another and what was it about the other candidates (Tara Burdick, Guy Gehlert, Ahmed Ismail and Cynthia Sohn) that they weren’t part of their team? If it is only that they like each other, I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.
The lack of an answer to this is giving rise to speculation, a flicker that was stoked further by the GPEA endorsement, that the slate of three is “hand picked” by the district and administration. That is a far-fetched theory, but there is enough evidence to support that the district establishment likes what it sees out of the slate of three. Controversy is also rising because so many district employees, including at least three highly placed district administrators, have the trio of Howlett, Summerfield, and Weertz signs on their lawns.
As citizens of course these employees have every right to voice an opinion, but being that they are insiders, you have to wonder why.
Meanwhile in a letter to the Grosse Pointe News, candidate Burdick fired some strong shots across the bow of the establishment. She took dead aim on the failed tech bond calling it “flawed.” She protested against the employee contract formula clause by saying that district staff “should not be expected to bail out our district and restore its financial health.” She took the incumbent board to task, without naming Summerfield, for giving Superintendent Harwood a bonus when others took pay cuts. (I wrote about that back in June, 2013.)
The letter was filled with a slew of positions and promises that will be hard to reconcile as a practical matter, but at least it was substantive. The voters need more of that. The issues she raised really are the three key issues in this election: the Harwood issue, the tech bond issue, and the teacher contract index clause issue.
As of this writing the only positions known on these are Burdick’s from above and that Summerfield was a tech bond advocate and has voted to retain and bonus Harwood. Beyond that we know the GPEA and tech bond committee leadership all endorse Howlett, Weertz and Summerfield. And even in that we have only innuendo. Where do the other candidates stand on these issues?
Perhaps the October 7th League of Women Voters forum is one option, but with seven candidates the answers will be short and the risk of ambiguity is high. In the social media era, we shouldn’t have this problem. As of right now, however, we do. It would be refreshing to see any of the candidates host their own Google Hangout style Q and A session.
I’ll be publishing what has become an ambitious ten year history of the GPPSS Board of Education sometime over the next couple of weeks. I started to give background on the key issues in this election and found that the history is so relevant and necessary to understanding that I felt I needed to get this done. So stay tuned. It’s been a wild ten years!
Until then, I encourage everyone to really press the candidates for answers to these positional issues. They matter far more than personalities and personal politics.