In the Saturday edition of the Press, Lisa Hinkel of the Grand Rapids Board of Education authored a statement that makes it clear that she is very annoyed that some of us would like school elections held either during the August primary election or (preferably) the November general election. She is still peeved about the "complicated restructuring" resulting from the state legislature forcing school districts to hold elections on one of four specific dates during the year. How complicated that can be makes me wonder, seeing that until the law was passed two years ago, school districts had gotten quite adept at holding millage elections on all sorts of oddball dates with little public announcement. Why holding an election on a regular date should be difficult is not clear.
In fact, it's not complicated at all. The truth, which the likes of Ms. Hinkel won't ever admit, is that school boards liked having the power to hold effectively stealth millage elections that only teachers, administrators, activists, and even voting-age students subjected to classroom campaigning knew about. That way they could swamp the election with their ballots because of the resulting low public turn-out. They resent having their wings trimmed by the state legislature acting in response to public disgust with unpredictable election dates. Ms. Hinkel and her cohorts want quasi-secret elections with little fanfare, because that gives them the most control over the outcome. And so, that's why Ms. Hinkel is protesting against any further consolidation of election dates. She wants to preserve the leverage school boards have to hold elections in February or May, when elections are not even on the radar screens of a very busy general public.
What Ms. Hinkel does not want is a lot of public attention focused on school elections. She is hostile to contentious debate over school issues, which she derides as "ugly politics" -- as though one of the largest drains on the taxpayer's wallet should not be subject to the political process. Ms. Hinkel gives up the ghost when she writes: "Moving school board [and millage] elections to November would introduce the kind of special interest endorsements, politics, and partisanship that we associate with general elections in November." Translation: Dammit. More people and groups will get involved in the campaign over public school issues. We will no longer get to campaign against silent opposition.
"This would be very harmful to an already fragile system." Translation: It will be a lot harder for me to keep my seat on the school board in a competitive election with heavy public turn-out. It will be even harder to get millages passed to construct more new buildings in a district losing students by the boatload every year.
"Many special interest groups mail out their brochures before the November election endorsing a whole list of candidates that will surely keep the interests of that particular group in mind." Translation: Oh heavens! I will now have to answer to well-coordinated opposition to my re-election. Furthermore, we will no longer be able to force students to take home our millage propaganda without other groups responding to it.
What this adds up to is that Ms. Hinkel, a public official, has quite an anti-democratic frame of mind. Since when have school elections become contemplative, ivory tower affairs above the rabble-rousing of the hoi polloi?* An election is nothing without a campaign. School districts, already in the death grip of the teacher unions, administrator associations, and identity politics, need more exposure to the disinfecting sunlight of a raucous and noisy campaign at the very time when the general public devotes its attention to the matters that must be decided by elections. If a November election facilitates public participation, then every decent-minded school board official should get on-board with the program.
NOTE: Read here how Lisa Hinkel and her fellow school board members voted to deny ordinary citizens the opportunity to cast a ballot on one of today's most important issues.
* What? "Hoi polloi" means "the many", so "the hoi polloi" is "the the many"? Well, maybe so, but what do you expect from the public school education I got?