By Bill Grant
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
After the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce led the charge to install a conservative Grand Junction City Council, Republican women have now launched a crusade to install a thoroughly partisan District 51 Board of Educaition.
Comparing the November school board election to this month’s recall of state Sens. John Morse and Angela Giron, Lois Dunn-Susuras, chairwoman of the Mesa County Republican Party, suggested the local school board races, like the Front Range recall elections, could involve unprecedented amounts of money and provoke interest and financial contributions from outside the district.
Though the campaign will be costly and will require extensive volunteer time, Dunn-Susuras said, “We do believe this is worth it — it’s a very big race we need to win this time.”
Referring to current board members Ann Tisue and Jeff Leany, who are not up for election this year, Linda Gregory, president of Mesa County Republican Women said, “Our two need more help.”
It is unclear why Mesa County Republican women have chosen to politicize the District 51 school board election. What is political about cafeteria policies, school zoning issues, student transportation, safety and other issues likely to be dealt with at the local school board level?
Most of all, how will politicization of the school board enhance student learning outcomes?
Many education experts believe non-partisan school boards are the foundation on which our public education system rests. Free from partisan pressure, school board members are more likely to make sound decisions favorable to students and teachers, and more likely to take actions that enhance learning.
“That’s designed by the State of Colorado,” explained Steve Burkholder, former mayor of Lakewood and lifetime Republican. “Local school boards are to be non-partisan.”
Or at least they used to be.
The Republican’s “three great candidates” are Pat Kanda in District C, Mike Lowenstein in District D and John Sluder in District E.
Although these candidates are distancing themselves from their party affiliations, they cannot hide their partisan base. “This is the slate that the Republican Party has decided to back,” Gregory announced.
She assured the public, “We do believe in conservative values and we found the people we thought follow our way of thinking. It is a non-partisan election and I don’t know how they’re registered.”
This, however, is contradicted by the weeks Gregory spent vetting the candidates. Before they were selected as the conservative candidates, these three were thoroughly investigated by Republicans, including facing 20 interested citizens for two hours.
They were also extensively interviewed by the Republican Party, which approved the slate as party candidates.
For a taste of what may be coming, parents, students, teachers and people who value public education unpolluted by politics need to look no further than the reading list proposed by Leany last January.
After he scoured books used by District 51, Caprock Academy and Mesa County K-12 on-line courses, Leany declared himself “not too pleased” with the district’s choice of texts, especially in the area of history and civics.
Leany proposed to replace these questionable texts with a hodgepodge of right-wing propaganda, at least one of them written by the late Cleon Skousen.
Skousen was a veteran of the John Birch society who had drifted so far to the nutty right that all but the most right-wing of his followers had rejected his radical politico-religious ideas. That included all but a radical right-wing fringe of the Mormon community.
Stanford University constitutional scholar Jack Rakove declared Skousen’s work “a joke that no self-respecting scholar would think is worth a warm pitcher of spit.”
This lurch to the right by school boards is not limited to Mesa County in Colorado. Both Jefferson and Douglas Counties preceded Mesa in politicizing their school boards.
In other school districts around the country where Republicans dominate, similar plans to politicize the local school boards are also under way.
Education professor and philosopher Diane Ravitch describes this movement as “another kind of politics ... in which educational institutions become entangled in crusades marked by passionate advocacy, intolerance of criticism, and unyielding dogmatism, and in which the education of children is a secondary rather than a primary consideration.”
Watching partisan politicization consume the District 51 school board, it is impossible not to conclude, as Ravitch does, that “such crusades go beyond politics-as-usual, they represent the politicization of education” itself.
Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at William.firstname.lastname@example.org.