Thursday, April 2, 2009

ASA at the Launch of the Appointed Board Movement

By Lisa Kaiser
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The shady Advocates for Student Achievement may claim to be a “good government group” that’s solely focused on running good candidates for the MPS board. But early on, ASA tried to find support among some prominent people who were bouncing around the idea of replacing the elected MPS board with an appointed one.

You may recognize some of the folks who were copied on the e-mails that launched the movement for an appointed board:

Bruce Thompson: pro-voucher MPS board member; ASA founder

Dennis Conta: former state legislator who is active in the charter school movement; ASA advisor

Jeanette Mitchell: voucher advocate

Dan Grego: voucher advocate, ASA advisor

Anne Curley: Curley Communication; ASA Leadership Committee member

David Riemer: sympathetic to vouchers; ASA adviser

Deborah McGriff: wife of Howard Fuller, head of Milwaukee chapter of a pro-voucher group

Howard Fuller: ex-MPS superintendent turned voucher program architect; married to Deborah McGriff

John Parr: ex-union official, small and charter school supporter; ASA Leadership Committee

Daisy Cubias: assistant to Mayor Barrett who gave Rudy Giuliani a tour of voucher schools

Sister Joel Read: Greater Milwaukee Committee who's also active in MPS accountability measures

Cindy Marino: head of St. Joan Antida school, which receives vouchers

Kevin Ronnie: pro-voucher candidate who lost to Peter Blewett in 2005

Mike Grebe: head of the ultra-conservative Bradley Foundation

Robb Rauh: works at Milwaukee College Preparatory School, an independent charter school

Tim Sheehy: head of the pro-voucher MMAC

And there are many more…

To be fair, not all of these folks were part of this discussion, and some may have wondered why they were receiving these e-mails. But as far as I can tell, this is the e-mail discussion that launched the idea of replacing the elected MPS board with an appointed one. Or as Dennis Conta put it: “Hello all—I do have a serious proposal: we should abolish the Milwaukee School Board and replace it with an appointed non-partisan board (as non-partisan as possible).”

There was a lot of back and forth about this proposal, breaking up MPS into smaller school districts, what CEOs want, how the community can be involved, etc.

But on April 4, 2008, about two hours after Conta made his pitch, ASA’s Anne Curley had this to say:

Dennis—If it is possible to achieve your proposed solution, that would seem to be ideal. While the current system remains in place, is [sic] seems the only hope for improvement lies in establishing a much more concerted effort to identify, recruit, and develop potential candidates who are capable of providing effective governance.

As many of you know, that’s the singular focus of a new organization formed by some of the people involved in Bruce Thompson’s successful campaign last year for the city-wide MPS board seat. Called Advocates for Student Achievement, it’s conducting systematic outreach to leaders of neighborhood-based organizations, parent organizations, and other high-potential referral sources such as the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors and the Urban League’s Young Professional Organization….

Curley attached some ASA PR material to the e-mail, and asked recipients to “surface potential candidates.”

Don’t know if any of these folks “surfaced” potential candidates. But it’s interesting to note that Curley—who doesn’t even live in Milwaukee—thought she’d find allies amid a discussion of the merits of blowing up the democratically elected school board and replacing it with an appointed one.

Also interesting is the list of media folks who were included on the e-mails: JS education reporter Alan Borsuk, an MPS critic who writes approvingly of voucher and private schools; David Haynes, conservative voice on the JS editorial board; former Fox 6 reporter Joanne Williams, who now works for Cardinal Stritch University; and Milwaukee Magazine’s Bruce Murphy and Tom Bamberger.

Looks like the ASA’s aims and those of the voucher, charter and private school movement’s dovetailed nicely—at least on private e-mails, away from public scrutiny.

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