BY ELI FRANK —
The school board forayed into legislative advocacy earlier this year with their opposition to the state legislature’s transgender-discriminatory bill (AB 469). While state action regarding education has always been a concern for the board, they have taken more direct actions this year in the realm of advocating for action in the best interest of Shorewood schools.
“We haven’t done [legislative advocacy in a concerted effort]. We’ve done it, … but it’s been very reactive to what’s happening … We want to be better about knowing what’s coming down the pipeline … and then being able to mobilize,” said Paru Shah, school board president.
The March 22 school board meeting reflected this renewed focus, with presentations from David Bowen, Democratic state Assemblyman from Milwaukee, who educated the board on the current state of public education in Wisconsin, and Angela McManaman, president of the Milwaukee chapter of Parents for Public Schools, who shared her experience in parent advocacy and guided the board on parent advocacy models that would best fit Shorewood.
“I want to make sure I can give you the educational effects of the legislature,” Bowen said to the board at the beginning of his presentation. “Recently, as of the current school year, over $1.2 billion in funding has been removed from public schools since Republicans took power in 2011.”
Shah stressed the importance for dialogue between the board and legislators like Bowen, who are interested in protecting public education.
“Me and David talked about being better at communicating,” Shah said. “He knows he can call on me to say, ‘Hey, can you mobilize some people to make some phone calls?’ And … we can ask him, ‘Hey, what’s going on that we should be aware of so we can be prepared?’”
With the help of the board and the district, as well as other Wisconsin school districts, Bowen believes real change can be achieved in the state legislature. Both Bowen and Shah stressed that strong partnerships between boards and legislators are key to achieving change in the best interest of public school districts like Shorewood.
McManaman followed up Bowen’s presentation with her own, focusing on possible models for parent advocacy that could be implemented within the district. Shorewood had a parent advocacy group separate from the PTO many years ago, but it has since burned out. Recreating a parent advocacy group is another dimension of the board’s focus on legislative advocacy, and one step in an effort to hear the views of parents within the district.
“The board isn’t going to run the parent advocacy group, [but] … we’re hoping there’s going to be a groundswell of parents … I think hopefully, we’re going to start putting a plan in place [for a model],” Shah said.
McManaman discussed her involvement with Parents for Public Schools, the parent advocacy model of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). She expressed appreciation for this model because it allows school districts access to a national base that offers support to individual districts and makes it easier for local chapters to gain recognition and institutional connections. However, McManaman said there were different options open to Shorewood that might not work as well in larger districts like MPS.
“I think there might be some issues organizing a large, urban district that you might not face organizing a small, suburban school district,” McManaman said. “With a community like Shorewood, you probably have a lot of options available to you for a successful parent advocacy model.”
According to McManaman, the political climate surrounding education is a popular topic when rallying parents to get together.
“The pace of parent organizing has really picked up as the pace of budget cuts also has and as Act 10 has reaped considerable damage in our school districts as well,” McManaman said.
Shah echoed this when explaining the urgency in getting this group together.
“[Conversations for the next budget cycle] are going to start now … Another serious budget cut would be … devastating … We’ve got to get the army together … That’s what I think the new interest in doing this is,” Shah said. “We’re really going to need [a parent advocacy group] in the next budget cycle.”
“It really depends on the parents that come on board and how much time they’re willing to commit … Take the temperature of your group: who’s involved; who can you count on, what are their strengths and talents and then decide what you can support,” McManaman said.
McManaman’s presentation will be a factor in the board’s continued exploration of different parent advocacy models to further strengthen the board’s renewed focus on a concerted approach to legislative advocacy.