Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mayor and the Schools: Picking the Trustees

Richardson Mayor Laura Maczka found herself in some hot water with some voters for recording a robo-call endorsing one candidate in the Richardson ISD school board race.

And it wasn't just voters who were concerned. RISD trustee Kris Oliver said:
Some of you may have received messages from Richardson civic leaders suggesting you vote based on the candidate's city of residence; I urge you to reject this notion and remember that all of our trustees serve at large without regard for any particular geography. Please vote for the candidate you feel has the best qualifications, not the best zip code.

RISD trustee Adam Meierhofer said:
I am not sure if there is much precedent for the Mayor of Dallas, Richardson, or Garland endorsing candidates for the RISD school board.

There is precedent in RISD for a strong team of trustees. I understand this has created some distraction and could potentially be divisive, but the board has a strong legacy for collaborating and serving with whomever the community elects, wherever they may reside.

After the jump, I weigh in.

It's highly unusual for, not one, but two trustees to comment on something that happens during an election campaign. In my memory, it is unprecedented for Richardson's mayor (or council members) to make endorsements in the RISD school board races. Mayor Maczka thinks otherwise, but neither she nor anyone else provided a historical example otherwise.

I think there are good reasons why up to now city officials have stayed out of school board politics. It's a distraction and possibly divisive, as Meierhofer says. The school board should be focused solely on education. Mixing in city politics risks taking away from that focus. The RISD extends over parts of three cities: Dallas, Richardson and Garland. Mixing in city politics risks creating division in what is a generally united district. We should resist anything that leads to identifying candidates as the "Richardson candidate" or the "Lake Highlands candidate." Intended or not, there's no way the Mayor of Richardson can involve herself in an RISD election without creating the perception of there being a "Richardson candidate."

In the 2013 mayoral election, candidate Amir Omar promoted a proposal to create a joint commission with members from the Richardson City Council and the boards of trustees of the Richardson and Plano school districts, tasked with the goal of finding opportunities for partnership. Candidate Laura Maczka rejected the idea, wanting to keep the different systems of government separate. In my mind, keeping the running of schools separate from the running of the city starts with the mayor not trying to decide who runs the schools. In this school board election, Mayor Mazcka should have trusted the instincts of mayoral candidate Maczka.


DennisTheBald said...

Spot on, Mark.
I'd like to note that roughly half of the students in the RISD schools live outside the city of Richardson. Amir's idea if a joint commission doesn't sound half bad. Maybe he launched it from the wrong half of the table... if the city won't reach out to the school board maybe the SBoard could reach out to the cities. I'm not sure home rule would be good for DISD, but the mayor of Dallas seems really excited about hooking up with the school district. I don't think that's the kind of love we should be looking for in RISD places. Maybe the home owners associations are the type of governing bodies that are a better match for hooking up with trustees. But then we're right back around to people getting all territorial about which place candidate represents their place at large. Why do we have places in races for at large seats, for both trustees and council members? What if all the candidates ran at large and the voters got as many picks as there were open seats? Like this year: two seats, two choices per ballot, five candidates, cast you ballot for your top two, and when we tally, win & place fill the seats. We would end up with a more positive focus during the campaign as each candidate would be running against the field, against people they hope to serve with after the election. I think I would be more focused on telling the voters what good things I was fixin to do rather than the bad things the other candidate done did. Wow that wandered off, oh! Squirrel

Mark Steger said...

"DennisTheBald," thanks for the feedback. Yes, you did wander off. So far, I think I'll decline to follow. ;-)

By the way, even though I know your real name, and readers could figure it out by clicking on your profile, I'd rather you sign your real name to comments. Or add it to your profile.