Column: City Council, School Board elections raise many issuesSome thoughts on this year’s Duluth City Council and School Board elections based on last month’s filings...
By: Virgil Swing, For the Budgeteer News
Some thoughts on this year’s Duluth City Council and School Board elections based on last month’s filings:
Periodically, people complain about the relative lack of women in higher office. The number of such women has increased gradually in recent years, but we’d be better served if the gender balance were closer to what we find in life.
But, as I’ve said in this space before, women should expect to elected to lower-level offices (city, county, school board) and get experience before seeking state and federal office.
The Duluth City Council has a good mix of women members, holding four of the nine spots. But of the eight people who filed for the council in July, only one was a woman.
Although all spots on the ballot are held by men, women will still be a strong presence. But it won’t take too many years of a 7-1 male filing ratio to again make this a male-dominated body.
The city council is a non-partisan office, but that didn’t stop the city’s DFL Party from endorsing candidates for it. The DFLers also backed certain candidates for the school board, also a non-partisan body.
They have every legal right to do this, but it would be nice if they’d respect the non-partisan nature of these bodies. Local Republicans (yes, there are some) don’t endorse in these races. That may be due less to high principle than to recognizing their backing would hurt, not help, conservative candidates in a city that finds it hard to vote for anyone other than DFLers.
Interestingly, the DFL endorsements came in mid-May, long before filings for the two bodies had opened or closed. It seems like a better idea to wait until after filings to screen candidates. An even better idea would be to ignore these races entirely.
The Duluth Federation of Teachers had not endorsed school board candidates as this is written (July 29) but will before the Sept. 10 primary election. They won’t have the luxury this year of endorsing (successfully) three former teachers union members as in 2011 but will find some they like.
As I’ve said before, board candidates should not seek or accept the union endorsement since they’re essentially running for a management position across the bargaining table from the union. Board members haven’t directly been part of contract talks for a long time — but some should be.
Voters should also not see a union endorsement as a good quality for board members, but skeptical me expects that view will find few supporters. All three ex-union candidates were elected two years ago by voters who rejected three special-levy requests.
The school board has long had a strong representation of women among its members and they hold three of the seven spots on the current board. Four of the 12 candidates who filed last month are women, so that pattern may well continue.
Hovering somewhere in the background as the primary nears is the unsettled (as of now) teachers union contract. All involved have decried the crowded classrooms of Duluth public schools, which are to some extent due to the unaffordable fringe benefits of teachers.
The teachers union is seeking smaller classes or higher pay for those who teach them. They also want teachers to be paid more if the district adds minutes or days to the school schedule. The union also wants added pay to go to teachers who work in low-performing schools or who have classes with more than one grade.
None of this is surprising since the union’s job is to seek such improved benefits for members. But this is an extremely cash-strapped district (which led to some classes of more than 40 students), and the board is expected to ask voters in a referendum this fall to approve higher property taxes to raise school revenues.
It’s uncertain how that request will play with voters who rejected three such pleas in the last election and saw the board raise property taxes by nearly 12 percent last winter — and then saw the 2013 Minnesota Legislature spend millions to bail out the underfunded teachers pension fund.
It should be an interesting election season.
Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing has been writing about Duluth for many years. Contact him at email@example.com.