Blog: The Educated Reporter

Election Day: Busy Beat For Education Reporters

There’s plenty to keep education beat reporters busy today, from contentious school board elections with as much mud being slung as education buzzwords, to controversial proposals for tax increases to fund public schools.

In South San Antonio, which has a K-12 enrollment of about 10,000 students, the battle for four seats on the school board has grown into “one is one of the nastiest races ever we’ve seen,” says San Antonio Express-News reporter Francisco Vara-Orta. It’s even “prompted the use of Shakespeare to describe the feuding of two political dynasties vying to take control of the board with allegations of drug use, children born out of wedlock, and personal dirt thrown at all 10 candidates,” Vara-Orta told me in an email.

Indeed, as Vara-Orta describes in a recent story, the candidates each appear to have ties to one of two powerful political families, in what he characterized as “an ongoing street fight to control the board.” Just how ongoing? Vara-Orta tells me that a review of the newspaper’s archives found evidence of school board power struggles going back 35 years.

As ugly as the sparring has gotten in South San Antonio,  it’s almost outpaced by the drama in Wake County, N.C., where two school board members both seeking higher office are trading allegations of theft, an affair, and bizarre behavior.

Wake County school board member Deborah Goldman is the Republican nominee for state auditor. Fellow school board member Chris Malone, also a Republican, is running for state House. The News & Observer received portions of a two-year-old police report from an anonymous source, detailing that Goldman had named Malone as a potential suspect in the disappearance of $130,000 in cash – yes, cash – from her home. Police investigators were satisfied that Malone didn’t commit the burglary, the newspaper reported. But during the investigation there were conflicting statements from Goldman and Malone as to the nature of their relationship.

Situations like this are messy to read – and to report. (The he-said-she-said narrative escalated when Goldman shared with the newspaper with what she said was a tape-recorded conversation with Malone.) One commenter on the News & Observer’s web site professed to being “consistently amazed at how many distractions the Board of Education can find to prevent themselves from actually focusing on student achievement.”

There’s less interpersonal drama playing out in some local and statewide tax initiatives intended to fund public schools but that doesn’t mean the stakes are any lower. In Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth-largest school district, there’s a $1.2 billion bond referendum for consideration, intended to repair dilapidated facilities and upgrade school technology. The Miami Herald reports that the district sent fliers home with students with information about the proposed bond, prompting questions about whether that crossed the line prohibiting electioneering with public money.

It would be tough to find a state harder hit by the recession than California, and educators are warning of dire consequences for public schools – particularly the state’s colleges and universities — if Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial tax initiative fails. (The Modesto Bee’s Nan Austin has done some thoughtful analysis of the debate.)

In Baldwin County, Ala.,  a one-cent sales tax to benefit education is up for a vote. But the bigger controversy for Alabama voters is probably the proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution. Supporters of the Amendment 4 say it will remove antiquated language that once resulted in segregated schools. But opponents, including the state’s teachers union, argues the removal will also nullify the state’s obligation to education its children.

In Wisconsin, elementary school students in Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s hometown of Janesville held a mock election Friday, and the Obama-Biden ticket was the clear winner of both the electoral college and the popular vote. As Frank Schultz of the Janesville Gazette reported, the mock election is part of civics instruction at 12 public and five private schools in the area. While Romney was declared the winner at two of the four Catholic schools participating, Obama ultimately prevailed. The students accurately predicted the winner of the actual contest in 1988, the first year the inter-school mock election was held, as well as in 1992, 1996, and in 2008.

Have a question, comment or concern for the Educated Reporter? Contact Emily Richmond. Follow her on Twitter @EWAEmily.

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