Madison’s minority community is in open revolt against a long-dominant white, liberal political machine it sees as being more beholden to the teachers union than to teaching their children.

Their community is miffed that the Dane County Democratic Party is running candidates against two minority-race candidates in the supposedly non-partisan school board election on April 2. Black and Hispanic ire came to a boil when a third minority-race candidate was squeezed out in the primary election by a candidate backed by the state legislature’s two highest-ranking Democrats — neither of them from Madison.

Leftist community organizer Sarah Manski was encouraged — if not actually recruited — by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and teachers union boss John Matthews to enter the race after Latina immigrant Ananda Mirilli had announced her candidacy. Manski, head of the permanent Capitol protest group "Wisconsin Wave," was endorsed by Democratic power brokers like State Assembly minority leader Peter Barca of Kenosha and State Senate Democrat leader Chris Larson of Milwaukee.

Their interest in a local school board race — on top of local politicos like State Rep. Terese Berceau and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (see Manski’s endorsement list) — suggest that waging a partisan grudge match against Gov. Scott Walker was at least as important as improving student achievement.

The three minority candidates ran afoul of the Democrat machine by supporting the charter school proposed by the Madison Urban League. Its charismatic president, Kaleem Caire, proposed Madison Urban Prep high school to address Madison’s yawning racial achievement gap.

That charter school would have been just one school amid 50 Madison public schools. Modeled after similar schools profiled in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, "Waiting for Superman," it would have taught 400 kids out of the 27,000 enrolled in the district. It would have a dress code, longer school days, and a longer school year — all anathema to the teachers union. One more thing: the charter school would have been non-union.

Soglin, a long-time Democrat power broker, endorsed Manski as "being committed ... to our schools" — an encomium that sounded cynical and absurd when Manski announced that she was moving to California barely two days after placing first in the February 19 primary.

But Manski’s campaign accomplished what it set out to do, thanks to a falsehood her Green Party activist/husband Ben Manski broadcast. The falsehood linked Mirilli to private school vouchers — deeply unpopular in bright blue Madison. The ploy worked. Mirilli finished third and out of the running, leaving non-candidate Manski and another teachers union lackey, T.J. Mertz, on the ballot.

"If [Manski and Mertz] had been two Republicans placing first and second in this primary with a Democrat finishing third under the same circumstances, progressives would be storming the Capitol right now," observed black community commentator Derrell Connor.

"Almost anyone ... who supported Madison Prep has been labeled the enemy because communities of color are asking for a better future for their children."

The weekly, minority-owned Madison Times was equally outraged. Its editorial of February 27 thundered, "Sarah Manski dropping out of the Madison Metropolitan School District school board race less than 48 hours after winning the primary was another swift kick in the gut to Madison’s minority population ... because another one of Madison’s liberal power elites treated her school board race as a back-up plan. That’s a special kind of entitlement. It’s the manifestation of blatant white privilege."

WISC-TV3 editorialized: "It’s undemocratic, it feels sleazy, and it smacks of a Madison political class that has gotten too comfortable with itself."

Manski versus Mirilli was but one of the three school board races on the April 2 ballot. (Although Madison school board candidates run citywide, each candidate picks a seat number and competes head to head with others for that seat.)

James Howard is a black businessman and the only remaining member of school board to vote for Madison Urban Prep, which went down to a 5-2 defeat last year. Howard expressed incredulity that the Dane County Democratic party, which — after all — is countywide and partisan, would endorse in a non-partisan race.

Against Howard, the Party endorsed an unknown named Greg Packnett, who can best be described as a professional Democrat. Packnett serves on the Party’s executive board and, in his day job, as a legislative aide to Democrats in the State Assembly. For the other school board seat, Democrats and the teachers union endorsed government service-provider Dean Loumos.

All of which amazes school board veteran Ed Hughes, who blogged that neither Manski, Packnett, or Loumos "has had any involvement in any Madison school issue. I don’t recall seeing any of them at any School Board meeting ... They have not been among the scores of community members who have spoken to us on nearly every conceivable topic during public appearances at our Board meetings."

The one exception, Hughes grants, is a single e-mail from Loumos "urging us to reopen our union contracts and increase pay for school staff."

Madison Teachers Inc. and the Party are backing Loumos over Wayne Strong, a retired Madison police lieutenant, South Side youth volunteer, and member of the school district’s strategic planning committee.

Hughes took to the on-line social media to observe, "The way things appear is that Loumos is just another candidate whose qualifications are measured more by opposition to [Scott] Walker rather than actual involvement in our schools, who is pushed by John Matthews and Paul Soglin to run for School Board and whose success would end up denying another candidate of color."

Understand, Hughes is no Tea Partier. All seven members of Madison’s school board are liberals or worse. They have controlled the school district for at least the last 30 years. Which means liberals own Madison’s achievement gap.

Fewer than half of Madison’s black students graduate; Hispanic students don’t fare much better. Black students lag white students by 7.4 points (18 to 25) on the  ACT tests; Hispanic students are 4.8 points behind. More than one in four black Madison high school students are chronically absent — a rate 3.5 times higher than for Madison’s white high school students and almost twice the rate for black high school students in other Dane County schools, according to the DPI.

Urban League president Caire raised the issue in late 2010, well before Scott Walker was even sworn into office as governor. Early this month, Caire weighed in on the school board election shenanigans:

"If all it takes to win a seat on the school board now is opposition to charter schools, rather than being someone who possesses unique experiences and qualifications to serve our now majority non-white and low-income student body and increasingly challenged schools, we should all worry about the future of our children and public schools."

 

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years working for daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times  if you can believe it. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors.