School elections taking political bent
By Dan Meisler
DAILY PRESS & ARGUS
The days when school board elections were barely noticed may be in the past, as pressure from state budget cuts, political parties and community groups are raising the profile of the campaigns and injecting a partisan atmosphere
Miles Vieau said it best.
"It's always been political; it's just been kind of a quiet politics,"
For years there was an old boys/old girls club that controlled things. Elections were run by the schools. The election dates were set by the schools. We had 3-10% turnout most years, largely by MEA affiliates and their supporters. It was a great setup for them.
Some rumblings really started to occur around 03 and 04. Chuck Breiner was involved in a bidding war between Rochester and Howell and received a big raise. At the same time, the school asked for a Headlee override to raise taxes on businesses. Write in candidates for the school board nearly won, and the override lost. It did pass later on a September election.
One key was Chris Ward's bill to limit elections to four days in a year. One in February, May, August (primary), and November (general).
Then came the enhancement millage. Four of the five school districts based in this county supported a property tax increase due to the inability of the districts living within their means in this rough economy. The Concerned Taxpayers Group was born out of this. Despite being outspent 4-1, the enhancement millage failed 2-1, losing in every district. Turnout was about 25-30% - 3-7 times a normal turnout. The old boys club did not control the election.
At the same time, there was a controversey over the rainbow flag raised in Howell schools. That's been covered enough and I don't wish to rehash the controversey. However, I do believe that was a factor in the millage's defeat.
The County GOP took a stand for fiscal discipline and joined the Concerned Taxpayers Group in opposing the tax increase. This brave move was a shot at the old boys club.
After the enchancement millage's defeat, people thought it was important to stay active in the schools. That's why the Concerned Taxpayers Group formed a PAC to make sure our school board members are fiscally responsible. The LOVE Group also formed a PAC to address their concerned about the values issues in their schools. Both PAC's made endorsements, as well as the County GOP. The MEA affiliates made their endorsements as well (as usual). The turnout was 20%, much higher than the customary 3-10%.
That brings us to today. The Concerned Taxpayers Group will be back. I assume the LOVE group will be as well. The MEA will be back. I'm not sure what the GOP or Democrats will do. We'll wait and see there.
The best news about this is that the voters will be informed and that the old boys club can not control everything. While the old boys network will have their say, so will the rest of the voters in the districts. People will have a choice this election, and there won't be the blind voting and few choices which was common in the past.